Nearly 70 employees began training Monday at Fresno's Covered California call center to learn how to field inquires from Californians about health plans offered through the state health benefit exchange.
They will be ready to take calls beginning Nov. 18, said Athena Fleming, a Covered California spokeswoman.
The 69 employees are the first group to be trained in Fresno and by 2015, the center will have about 500 workers. Wages range from $15 to $23 an hour.
Call center employees help people navigate Covered California's online application system for health insurance. In Fresno, Kings and Madera counties, three insurance companies -- Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente -- are offering plans through Covered California. In Merced, Mariposa, Tulare, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, Health Net also is a choice.
Each company offers a health plan in four "metal tiers" --- silver, bronze, gold and platinum. Premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs vary by tier.
Enrollment through Covered California began Oct. 1. To have insurance beginning Jan. 1, people must enroll by Dec. 15, and after that they can get insurance until open enrollment ends on March 31.
Covered California call centers have received thousands of calls since opening Oct. 1, Fleming said. The health benefit exchange shut down the online service over the weekend for maintenance, but it was back up Monday morning, she said. "We wanted to boost speed."
Despite opening hiccups in the Covered California online system, Fleming said: "We're not worried (Californians) won't be able to get in on time and get their insurance."
The Fresno call center will help calls get answered faster. The center is one of three in the state. One in Rancho Cordova outside Sacramento, and another in Concord, opened earlier.
Covered California will test more prospective employees for the Fresno center next month, Fleming said. Those workers will be the next hired and trained to join the 69 who started Monday.
Seven trainers have been brought to Fresno, said Charles Bormann, training manager. The training, he said, "is going to be very intense."