MONTPELIER — The state has been mandating overtime for 121 state workers this month to help clear a backlog of paper applications filed when its online health insurance marketplace experienced technological woes after its launch.
Some Department for Children and Families employees are being required to work 56-hour weeks to help process paperwork for Vermonters seeking insurance through Vermont Health Connect. The workers are entering data from paper forms into the online portal system.
The administration’s imposition of required overtime was first reported by Vermont Public Radio.
The online exchange, mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, launched Oct. 1. But it experienced glitches from the outset, and users were unable to create accounts and select plans online.
As a result, Gov. Peter Shumlin allowed users to complete paper applications. Individuals and families, and employees of businesses with 50 or fewer workers are required to use the exchange for their coverage.
Processing the applications has been an arduous task, even with 80 temporary workers.
Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy said a memo was distributed to the 121 employees Dec. 10 informing them of the required overtime beginning Dec. 12.
“Really, the decision for the need for it was made by DCF based on what they knew, the amount of work that had to get done to make sure that forms are processed by Jan. 1,” she said.
Vermont State Employees Association spokesman Doug Gibson said DCF workers notified the union after receiving the memo. About 50 employees represented by the union are affected, he said, while the remaining workers are temporary hires.
Gibson said the labor contract allows the administration to mandate overtime during what he called an emergency situation. He said using that discretion now raises questions about what situations require overtime.
“They have a right to do it. The question is, should they have done it, and is this an emergency situation as they are couching it as,” Gibson said.
Duffy said state officials have not declared any special emergency but management “has the prerogative to set schedules.” That includes flexibility to adjust hours.
State officials hope to end the required overtime soon.
“I’m hearing that the processing is going well, so we’re hoping that by Christmas this will be over,” Duffy said. “We’re obviously not going to do it any longer than we need to. This is not something that we would choose to do, ideally.”
DCF Commissioner David Yacovone said the overtime notice should be rescinded very soon because of “remarkable progress” by employees.
State officials said they had no estimate yet of how much the overtime will cost.
The department faced a backlog of 1,900 paper applications Dec. 10. As of Wednesday that number had dwindled to 60, according to Yacovone.
Meanwhile, the union is hoping to secure a meeting between workers and Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine to alleviate workers’ concerns. Gibson said union members at DCF are concerned that applications are not being properly processed and that too much of their time is spent training temporary workers.
The temporary hires came on board between July and mid-September to help with exchange-related tasks, Yacovone said.
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