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Healthcare reform a job creation machine

Companies recognize growth opportunities tied to the Affordable Care Act

David Weldon, Contributor

Much public discussion about the Affordable Care Act has focused on the countdown to Oct. 1, when uninsured Americans can access the health insurance exchanges. But a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to prepare for that moment, including the creation of thousands of new jobs.

A typical example is the State of Illinois, where over 600 workers have been hired to help explain the new regulations under the ACA. That number is expected to reach 1,200 by the end of September.

The ACA takes effect on January 1, 2014, and requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance. Employers are required to provide health insurance plans for their workers, or must help fund the healthcare exchanges that have been created in all 50 states to provide alternate coverage options.

Those exchanges have been created in most states, and workers have been undergoing training in preparation for the Oct. 1 “open for business” date.

[See also: HIX plan premiums won’t firm until 2016.]

“In President Obama’s home state, we are taking full advantage of this historic opportunity to increase access to healthcare and create thousands of good-paying jobs,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently announced. “The ACA will help bring affordable health coverage to hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois. We want to make sure our veterans, students and everyone who is looking for new career opportunities will be able to take advantage of the new healthcare jobs available.”

As part of the effort, Quinn directed the Illinois Department of Public Health to create a Health Care Workforce Workgroup. The group’s mission was to access and plan for the jobs needed to achieve the goals of healthcare reform, and best meet the healthcare needs of what is a growing, and increasingly diverse and aging, population in the state.

The federal government and the State of Illinois jointly put up the money to staff the healthcare exchange in Illinois, said Mike Claffey, chief-of-staff to Gov. Quinn. In total, the state has received more than $250 million in federal funds to prepare for full implementation of the ACA in 2014.

Much of the money supported the hiring of those 600 workers who will help explain the new ACA provisions to the public. Claffey said the University of Illinois at Champaign is providing the training facilities, both in classroom settings and online.

Many of the newly created jobs are “in-person counselor” positions, which range from $9-an-hour part-time jobs, to $45,000 per year project coordinators. But there are other, more skilled jobs as well.

Claffey said the State of Illinois runs a web site with positions available that are related to the exchanges and the call centers. Each person hired must complete state and federal training and a fingerprint-based background check in order to become certified by the Illinois Department of Insurance to work in the program. Claffey said the state is being very stringent on the screening and hiring of the in-person counselors, due to privacy concerns with public inquiries.

While the exchanges formally opened for business on Oct. 1, many began fielding consumer questions prior to that date. The federal government estimates that 27 million Americans will newly quality for health insurance coverage. The call centers will aid those consumers with information about employer-sponsored healthcare plans, state-provided plans, Medicare, Medicare Advantage and other relevant information. The centers will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While Illinois is an example of an in-state exchange and information center, in many states the healthcare exchanges are being outsourced, as are the public information centers.

A prime example is the call centers that have been set up in 34 states by Alexandria, Va.-based Vangent Inc., a division of General Dynamics. Vangent was awarded a $530 million one-year contract by the federal government to set up call centers where trained staff could answer consumer questions about the new law.

According to General Dynamics, which acquired Vangent in 2011: “Vangent primarily supports the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, State and Defense. The company’s core offerings include health informatics and information exchange, electronic health records and data analytics, as well as state-of-the-art business process outsourcing solutions.”

Not all of the jobs created by the ACA are going to less-skilled workers. For instance, hCentive, a Reston, Va.-based technology firm, is hiring trained engineers and information technology professionals.

According to CEO and co-founder Sanjah Singh, hCentive is hiring approximately 100 IT professionals in the United States, and an additional 350-375 engineers in India to help operate the insurance exchanges in several states.

Singh says the company recognized early the growth opportunities tied to the ACA, even before it became law.

hCentive recently hired 33 IT workers for the federal exchange, and an additional 17 for state exchanges. The firm has hired tech support staff, program managers, and business analysts.

Singh said the company initiated a first wave of hiring to help set up IT systems for the exchanges. A second hiring wave has supported preparations for the Oct. 1 deadline. A third wave of hiring is expected in 2015, when many of the currently outsourced exchanges are expected to be handed over to newly-created state exchanges.

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