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General Dynamics adds PPACA exchange call center workers

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CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) — A company that won the federal contract to help customers navigate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is adding at least 120 jobs at an eastern Iowa call center, the company said Monday.

General Dynamics IT, a contractor based in Fairfax, Va., said it also is creating thousands of jobs in Mississippi, Utah, Kentucky and elsewhere.

The new workers will staff PPACA information call centers.

Mark Meudt, a vice president at General Dynamics IT, said hiring and training has begun and will continue to increase as the law is implemented. He said calls about the law started coming in last week and are expected to ramp up in October, when people can start enrolling in health care plans through the new PPACA exchanges, or health insurance supermarkets.

For now, the call center is providing general PPACA information.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which awarded General Dynamics the contract after a bidding process, said call-center representatives will eventually help customers complete applications and select plans through a toll-free number. The department said assistance will be available in more than 150 languages.

“As you can imagine, this is a very large program that will be handling millions and millions of calls,” Meudt said at a news conference. “It is a huge undertaking.”

General Dynamics had already announced plans to add 1,000 employees in Mississippi to support the contract.

The company’s Coralville office, which already has about 600 employees, has long operated a call center to help patients who have questions about Medicare. It was operated for years by Vangent Inc., which was acquired in 2011 by General Dynamics.

Meudt said he believes the company’s longstanding relationship with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the unit of HHS that manages the contract, is critical.

“We’ve obviously developed a good deal of trust with them and it goes both ways,” he said. “I think that our experience will allow us to make a very smooth transition and provide the citizens with the information that they’ll need to better understand the program and ultimately understand their choices for enrollment.”

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said HHS officials had considered awarding the contract under a no-bid process, but that he successfully pushed for an open and competitive bidding.

“I want to make sure that taxpayers get the most bang for the buck. And when you do sole-source contracting, that doesn’t make any sense as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “So I went to bat for the process being open and I knew of course that General Dynamics IT would be a part of that.”

He said the company already does a great job helping Medicare patients and federal student financial aid applicants, and now its work will be key to the successful implementation of the health care law. The initial calls to the company reflect limited public awareness of the details of the law, he said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to get the word out about what exactly the ACA is and what it will provide, what the opportunities are for folks moving forward,” he said. “Getting the word out is going to be absolutely critical.”

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