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Health Benefit Exchange site could bring hundreds of jobs to county
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The pending implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill – the Affordable Care Act – could result in more than 300 jobs coming to Stanislaus County.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved submitting an application to host a Local Health Benefit Exchange Call Center Site on Tuesday. At least three counties are believed to be in the running for the site.

“Bringing those jobs to the county, I think, would be great,” said Board Chairman Bill O'Brien.

The State of California currently expects to operate three Health Benefit Exchange Call Centers in California – one in Sacramento, a state-run center somewhere else, and one “hybrid” county-run facility like that proposed by Stanislaus County.

The sites would support the eligibility and enrollment aspects of ACA programs, assisting uninsured Californians to purchase affordable healthcare. Most Americans will be required to purchase health insurance starting in 2014, under the terms of the ACA.

The federal and state governments would cover all costs related to the center – both startup and ongoing. Approximately $70 million in funding would be routed to Stanislaus County over the next three years.

“We could see an additional 2 to 300 jobs in our community, which would be very exciting,” said Chris Applegate, director of the county Community Service Agency.

Between 250 and 300 new jobs would be created if the center is sited in Stanislaus County, with 72 percent of those positions full-time. At least 100 agents would be available to take calls at all times.

More than 100 additional jobs could be created in Stanislaus County through the indirect economic benefits of the center.

Stanislaus County will learn on Jan. 4 if it has been awarded the center. Recruitment could begin on Jan. 29 in anticipation of a late spring opening, preparing for the fall open enrollment period.

If awarded, Stanislaus County would run the center through 2016, with optional two-year contract extensions afterward.

Despite the unanimous approval, some supervisors, Terry Withrow chief among them, expressed concern that Stanislaus County might be left responsible for retirement costs – at great cost – if the center is shut down early.

“We could be on the hook for a lot of money down the road, and the state would be nowhere to be found,” Withrow said.

County staff believes the proposal will cover all costs, including retirement. If the center is shuttered, some state funding would head to the county to pay for shut-down costs.

“We just have to be real vigilant on this,” Supervisor Vito Chiesa said. “We need the jobs, but we also have to keep the county afloat.”