Business

Blue Cross laying off 165 customer-service reps

A client enters the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Triangle Sales Center in the Village Market Place shopping center in Morrisville in this January 2016 file photo.
A client enters the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Triangle Sales Center in the Village Market Place shopping center in Morrisville in this January 2016 file photo. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, is laying off 165 customer service reps, many of whom were brought in last year to enroll customers under the Affordable Care Act.

The majority of those affected work in Durham but also include the company’s Fayetteville and Winston-Salem offices.

The Durham-based insurer beefed up its customer-service staff last fall after being hit with a $3.6 million state fine for widespread problems during open enrollment in early to mid-2016. The N.C. Department of Insurance levied a record fine against Blue Cross after thousands of customers complained of billing and enrollment errors, and hours of waiting on hold for an available customer service representative.

“We wanted to increase our staff for preparation for the 2017 open enrollment period,” Blue Cross spokeswoman Ryan Vulcan said. “After we concluded, we’re back down to support the current customers.”

It was unclear whether the employees were told when they were hired that the jobs were temporary. But Vulcan said employees who meet severance qualifications will be eligible for severance pay.

Blue Cross confirmed the layoffs Wednesday. The jobs will be terminated in June and will affect Blue Cross staff, contractors and vendor call-center workers, Vulcan said. Blue Cross will still have 935 customer service representatives after the layoffs.

In addition to last year’s enrollment snafus, Blue Cross was also preparing for a significantly higher ACA enrollment this year. The company was expecting an additional 260,000 people to enroll for 2017 after two other insurers – Aetna and UnitedHealthcare – withdrew from the federal insurance marketplace this year.

Blue Cross’s ACA enrollment totals this year were not available Wednesday. Blue Cross is the only health insurer offering ACA health plans in all 100 North Carolina counties.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski

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