Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia said Thursday it is adding more than 200 jobs in the Columbus area to help it handle growth in the number of policyholders expected from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Jennifer Wade, staff vice president of operations at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, made the company’s announcement at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
She said of the 40 million uninsured people expected to enter the insurance market nationwide starting in 2014, Blue Cross in Georgia is hoping to land about a million new clients. It already insures 2.4 million across the state.
“It’s great to bring a lot of new people into the market. But it’s people who’ve never had health insurance before,” said Wade.
She acknowledged the health-care sector is still trying to determine how everything will shake out with the Affordable Care Act — also referred to as Obamacare — which mandates that every American have a health-insurance policy or pay a penalty. Subsidies and tax credits will be offered by the government to help those who need assistance.
“There’s a lot of shifting that’s going to happen, and there are a lot of people who are looking into their crystal balls and asking, what’s going to be small group, what’s going to shift into individual businesses. It’s really hard to say,” Wade said.
The surge in policyholders and the confusion that the health-care law is likely to generate prompted Blue Cross and Blue Shield to put its workforce expansion into motion, she said.
The 200-plus new workers will add to the 1,200 already on the payroll with the company in the Columbus area. The current number includes 700 who work at the Blue Cross office complex at 2357 Warm Springs Road. The remaining 500 “telecommute,” meaning they work from home. The new hires will first spend time at the Warm Springs Road location.
“They’ll have to get trained and up and running,” Wade said. “Then once they’re trained, certain positions will be allowed to work at home.” Positions being added locally include customer service, claims, training and other “back-office” operational jobs. They will include entry-level and management positions.
The company said the Columbus jobs will be phased in over several months, with all hiring completed by late summer. The Georgia Department of Labor’s Columbus Career Center, 700 Veterans Parkway, will help the company with an April 20 job fair.
Thursday’s announcement came after nearly a year of courting Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, noted Dick Ellis, chairman of the Development Authority of Columbus.
“It didn’t just happen,” he said. “There was a lot of hard work and everybody coming together to make this happen.”
Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Gaymon said the importance of Blue Cross expanding its payroll here cannot be overstated.
“Many times we can take for granted the folks who are already here,” he said. “And we know that sometimes companies have to go to other places because their existing needs are not being taken care of.”
Chamber chair Jacki Lowe, a Georgia Power executive, pointed out Columbus and the surrounding area are garnering attention.
“I can tell you as I travel throughout the region and throughout the state, our area is the envy of most,” she said.
The economic impact of more than 200 new jobs also wasn’t lost on Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who thanked the health-care company for realizing the city’s workforce can get the job done. She also invited the insurer to grow its employee base here in the future.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is part of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., a for-profit managed health care company that merged with Anthem Inc. a decade ago.
It was in early 2009 that WellPoint cut about 1,500 positions from its 26-state footprint. That included 600 active positions and 900 unfilled jobs. The company did not break down at the time how many staffers were impacted in Columbus.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is looking to hire more than 200 by this summer.
To accomplish that, the health-care insurer will be recruiting at the Georgia Department of Labor’s Columbus Career Center, 700 Veterans Parkway, on April 20, a Saturday.
The job fair runs that day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Applicants should bring an updated resume.
Those wishing to apply for a job can also do so via the labor department’s website at www.dol.state.ga.us.
For more information, contact the Columbus Career Center at 706-649-7423.