More Obamacare Workers Reveal They Were Paid to Do Nothing

Friday, 16 May 2014 11:31 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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More workers hired to process Obamacare applications are revealing how they've been filling their days sleeping, playing board games, reading, or fighting with each other on many days when there was little or no work.

"I walk out every day feeling as if I have contributed nothing," a worker from the London, Ky., Serco facility told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday.

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A former worker at Serco's processing facility in Wentzville, Mo.,  Lavonne Takatz, said she and other workers played games or slept because there was nothing for them to do. She and other workers said company and government supervisors knew they were being paid to do little or no work at all.

"We played Pictionary. We played 20 Questions. We played Trivial Pursuit," said Takatz.

In some cases, the boredom led to gossiping and fights, former employees said. Monica Colvin, who worked in Wentzville's facility until January, said co-workers pushed her and unplugged her computer, and eventually she had to visit a doctor for anxiety and depression.

"When I got there, my blood pressure was almost at the stroke point," she claimed.

Serco, the Virginia-based arm of Britain's Serco Group, last year received a five-year, $1.2 billion contract to process paper applications for health insurance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Obamacare's implementation.

Takatz said employees couldn't have access to the Internet or cellphones. Another Wentzville center employee, Jaison Fleming, said workers weren't even permitted pens and paper, but supervisors began providing them to keep employees entertained.

Story continues below video.



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Eventually, Serco also started supplying books for workers to read and then allowed employees to bring their own, until CMS officials became aware people were reading on the job — then the books were banned.

The Kentucky worker, who would not provide his name because he feared losing his job, said Thursday conditions were the same at that facility.

"When the highlight of employees' days are playing Pictionary in the training room ... and you get paid decent money to go to work to talk to your friends, something is wrong," he told the Post-Dispatch in an email.

Takatz said she took the job to help people get medical care, but now she feels guilty for working there.

"It was like I was stealing money from people," she said.

The accusations first surfaced publicly on Wednesday, when workers told St. Louis television station KMOV that they were being paid to do nothing but sit at their computers all day and look busy. 

"They're told to sit at their computers and hit the refresh button every 10 minutes, no more than every 10 minutes," an employee told KMOV. "They're monitored, to hopefully look for an application."

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has called for a federal inspector general's investigation after hearing the "allegations of wrongdoing" from the Wentzville workplace.

Meanwhile, Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said Thursday his office has heard of more cases of employees who were doing little work.

"I have heard that there have been allegations from other facilities, and we are looking into that," he told the Post-Dispatch.

He and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander have sent a letter to the head of the CMS.

Blunt also said he wants to know why a Canadian company got the initial contract to run the HealthCare.gov website, and why Serco's British parent company has been accused of over-billing the British government.

"Right now on this issue we have a lot more questions than we have answers," Blunt said. "And they are questions that need to be asked and questions that need to be answered."

McCaskill has written to Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying the whistleblower told her she was called into work last fall "when the company was aware that its employees would not be able to work due to problems with the HealthCare.gov website."

The unnamed whistleblower, McCaskill said, claimed employees were told to "pretend to work" when federal officials were at the facility.

Serco says its workforce processed more than a million documents and made 1.4 million outbound calls to applicants between Oct. 1 and April 30, but admitted there are times when business is slow.

"As in any business or major program, there are peaks and valleys as the various tasks stop and start," said Alan Hill, Serco senior vice president of corporate communications and government relations.

All six of Missouri's Republican House representatives also sent a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, demanding answers about the workers' claims.

"We wonder whether or not there was any sort of concern voiced by CMS staff or any question of legitimacy stemming from that visit that may have made its way to CMS headquarters," stated the letter, signed by Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Ann Wagner, Vicky Hartzler, Jason T. Smith, Billy Long, and Sam Graves.

CMS officials said Serco employees are still processing mail and working with customers, but that the federal agency is regularly reviewing and adjusting the center's employee staffing levels, the Post-Dispatch reports.

Editor's Note: Obama ‘Blunder’ Spawns Massive Profit Opportunity

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