Call center business hiring hundreds of temps

Frank Pettinato, president of Corporate Call Center, is hiring 800 temporary workers. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Frank Pettinato, president of Corporate Call Center, is hiring 800 temporary workers. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 19, 2012

Frank Pettinato's telemarketing company has ridden the Affordable Care Act like the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island.

Whoosh, the provision in the health-care act that cut Medicare's selling period in half, meant that his business, the Corporate Call Center in Blue Bell, had to chop its permanent staff in half, from 200 to 100, in 2011. Then it had to recruit more temporary operators to work less time, with a net loss of 30 percent of the hours.

Now the health-care roller coaster is climbing up the track — and Pettinato said he needs to hire hundreds — 800 temporary workers and 70 full-time staffers — to keep up.

"It's a challenge," he said.

Pettinato wants to add 70 more to his permanent staff, which has already grown back to 200. And he's hustling hard to hire 800 temporary workers who can handle the rush of Medicare enrollments from Oct. 1 through Dec. 7. Pettinato wants to add the permanent staff by August. Many of the rest will be supplied within the next month through PeopleShare Inc., a local staffing company with offices in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia suburbs, and Cherry Hill.

Handling the Medicare rush is part one, but ever since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last month upholding the law's requirement that most people must buy insurance, Pettinato believes that his company will need to expand even more.

Pettinato said his clients include many of Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers, including Independence Blue Cross. All of them have their own telephone sales staffs, but when there's a spike in business, they look for temporary contractors to augment their sales force particularly at Medicare enrollment time.

In 2014 that will also be the case when millions of the uninsured must enroll in health plans, Pettinato said.

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurers had from October to December to enroll subscribers, and the subscribers had until mid-March to change their minds. That became, in effect, Pettinato said, a 5?-month selling and retention season. Now the entire period ends in early December.

The new law, he said, "had an adverse impact on us and our jobs, but the counterbalance is that with the mandate there will be a need for additional insurance agents to support the additional enrollment."

There is a wrinkle. The telephone sales force must be trained and licensed as an insurance agent, Pettinato said. Although his company does not pay prospective employees for their training time, it does underwrite the costs of the computer-based training. About half who enroll pass the test, he said. The workers earn $12 an hour.

"We start classes every week on Monday — 180 people a week, through Aug. 20," he said. They wind up with a license.

Pettinato said the Philadelphia-area workforce has the innate business sense to handle the work. "This market is heavily focused on insurance," he said. "We are able to find the people who have the understanding and have the business acumen." Many of his temporary employees return each year for Medicare season, earning more if they already have their licenses.

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

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