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The Obamacare Army


By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Call them Obamacare’s army.

From the chief actuary at the California health insurance exchange that President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law established to the legions of call center staffers who will help people trying to buy insurance through such state exchanges, the number of people working to implement “Obamacare” has reached the tens of thousands, a Reuters analysis has found.

No one said that overhauling healthcare, which accounts for 17 percent of all national spending, was going to happen with a skeleton crew.

State offices that will run insurance exchanges are hiring tens of thousands, either on staff or through outsourcing firms. Federal agencies that are key to implementing the law, such as the Internal Revenue Service, plan to hire thousands more, and private non-profit groups backed by the White House are dispatching thousands of newly hired staffers and volunteers into the field.

The number of such workers, obtained through documents and interviews with officials, consultants and contractors, could be significant enough to produce a modest, if temporary, boost to employment across several industries.

But the precise size of this workforce is shrouded in secrecy. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not reply to a question asking how many people it has hired or assigned to implement healthcare reform, and companies with government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars are similarly tight-lipped.

HHS spent $394 million through last March on contracts to set up state insurance exchanges it will run, according to a report this week by the Government Accountability office, the investigative arm of Congress. Among them: an $88 million contract with CGI Federal Inc. for information technology work and a $55 million contract with Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI) to build a “data hub” that will allow people to buy insurance on the state exchanges that are the heart of Obamacare.

But “we do not have information on the number of people involved to implement it,” said John Dicken, GAO’s director of healthcare.

Asked how many people its grant supported, QSSI Vice-President Mark Labus said, “That’s not information I’m authorized to release.”

What is clear is that relatively few of the Obamacare-related jobs are in healthcare, at least so far.

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