WENTZVILLE, Mo. - Pictionary. Trivial pursuit. Just a couple of the ways former employees tell NewsChannel5 hundreds of people pass the time at a Wentzville processing center set up to handle applications under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."
"I voted for Obama. I was totally for this Affordable Care Act. I'm still for it," said Lavonne Takatz. "But it's not working."
Specifically, says Takatz, Obamacare is not working at the Wentzville facility because the people are not working, with 660 employees paid to process paper applications that she says are not coming in.
Takatz and two other former employees tell NewsChannel 5 the government contractor they worked for, Serco, required employees to only process two applications per month.
"And those applications take approximately 20 minutes to do," said Takatz.
Most of the time, she says employees play games and gossip to pass the time.
Alan Hill, a spokesperson for Serco, said in an email when the Wentzville center opened in October 2013 the company "hired the necessary workforce to process paper applications and exemption requests, verify information, resolve conflicts of information, and obtain missing information."
"As in any business or major program there are peaks and valleys as the various tasks stop and start," Hill wrote.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS, oversees the $1.2 billion government contract in Wentzville. CMS says it works closely with Serco to insure federal funds are spent appropriately and says its "confident" staffing levels are "appropriate."
"When CMS would come through doing their inspections we were told to act like we were busy," said Takatz.
Takatz says she resigned out of frustration in mid-April after six months with Serco. She says getting paid to do nothing is not as good of a gig as it may sound.
"Trust me, you don't want to do nothing for 8 hours for six months," said Takatz who now works for less money than the $14.40 per hour she was paid by Serco, but she says she is much happier.
"Wherever you sat that was 'cell block' wherever. Mine was 'cell block D48.' I have never been to prison I don't know what it's like. But I'm pretty sure I was close to it," said Takatz.
Legislators, including U.S. Senators Roy Blunt, Lamar Alexander, Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, want answers regarding Serco.
Sen. McCaskill sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson asking for an evaluation of claims made against Serco.
Rep. Luetkemeyer, who represents the district where the center is located, sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner asking for an investigation of concerns. You can read his full letter below this story.
Sen. Blunt also sent a letter to the CMS administrator. In the letter, he writes, "We are concerned Serco may have much less work than was expected when CMS awarded the contract, and may not be successfully completing the applications it has received."
All have asked for a response no later than May 30.
A CMS spokesman released the following statement:
CMS is committed to working with Serco, and all of its contractor partners, to ensure that federal funds are spent appropriately and performance expectations are clear and monitored closely. We closely monitor the work Serco is doing relative to the number of employees they have, and we are confident that the balance is appropriate.
Serco released the following response:
Immediately following the award of our CMS contract, Serco set up operation centers and hired the necessary workforce to process paper applications and exemption requests, verify information, resolve conflicts of information, and obtain missing information. From October 1 through the end of April, our workforce has processed more than 1 million documents and made 1.4 million outbound phone calls to applicants. As in any business or major program there are peaks and valleys as the various tasks stop and start. The number of staff Serco has working on the Marketplace is reviewed on a regular basis by CMS and any adjustments are made to ensure tasks are successfully completed in the most efficient manner. Our people know that we are performing mission critical work to enable millions of Americas to obtain health insurance. Serco is proud to provide the business services that support this important effort.