When one of the millions of people enrolled in California’s low-income health program has a complaint or needs help, there’s a number they can call.
But for more than a year, that phone line was unreliable — tens of thousands of calls went unanswered.
In June, the California State Auditor found that the ombudsman phone system for the managed care Medi-Cal program was severely deficient and urged officials with the Department of Health Care Services to make upgrades. Between February 2014 and January 2015, an average of 12,500 calls went unanswered each month, the audit revealed. Some months, the telephone system rejected as many as 45,000 calls.
The department launched part of an upgraded phone system on Sept. 30 and plans to roll out additional features later this month.
Although the agency says the system will improve data collection, reduce dropped calls and allow people to leave messages, advocates question whether the office will have enough staff members to respond to the complaints once it receives them.
“I look forward to seeing some of the data that comes out from the new phone system, but I don’t think the current staffing is sufficient to address current demands,” said Linda Nguy, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We think there needs to be additional resources.”