California's health insurance exchange hired two outside firms for $13.4 million to address long wait times for consumers calling about their Obamacare coverage.
Covered California said it will pay $9.8 million to Faneuil Inc. and $3.6 million to Maximus Inc. to add more call-center capacity during the next open enrollment season starting Nov. 15.
"We had call response times that were far too long," said Peter Lee, the exchange's executive director. "We were swamped."
Many consumers and insurance agents have complained about the exchange's shoddy customer service and long hold times. In August, the exchange answered 1% of calls within 30 seconds, far short of its 80% goal.
The average wait time was under five minutes Thursday, according to the exchange.
Lee said the exchange is nearly doubling its service-center staff to 1,300 to help more than 1 million Californians renew their health-law policies by Jan. 1. The first batch of renewal notices for 2015 went out this week.
The state said it has spent $22.6 million on improving the speed and reliability of its website and online enrollment.
Covered California said more than 200,000 people have signed up for Obamacare coverage since regular enrollment ended in April under the Affordable Care Act.
But in a sign of the churn in the individual insurance market, an additional 150,000 people dropped out of the exchange after getting health benefits at work or failing to pay their premium.
People who move, lose their employer coverage or have some other qualifying event in their life can enroll outside the normal sign-up period.
Overall, Covered California said it has 1.1 million people enrolled now, down from its previous tally of 1.2 million.
Part of that was because the exchange said 81% of enrollees paid their initial premium compared with its earlier estimate of 85%.
Opponents of the health law have criticized the federal and state exchanges for not disclosing detailed enrollment figures in a timely manner.
The exchange wants to close open enrollment in mid-February with 1.7 million people enrolled.