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Lawmakers urge probe of ObamaCare contractor paying workers to 'do nothing'

Several lawmakers are calling for an investigation into reports that employees at a center processing applications for health insurance under ObamaCare were paid to do nothing.

Missouri television station KMOV-TV reported Monday that data entry workers at a Serco Inc. office in Wentzville spent days staring at their computer. The company was awarded up to $1.25 billion to process applications for health insurance through the health care law.

Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee sent a letter Wednesday to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in response to the report. 

"We are concerned Serco may have much less work than was expected when CMS awarded the contract, and may not be successfully completing the applications it has received," the senators wrote in the letter. 

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., whose district includes Wentzville, wrote to Tavenner separately along with several other congressional lawmakers looking into whether there should be an investigation.

"It is imperative that we fully understand the role of CMS and any potential role played by the Department of Health and Human Services in this matter," read the letter also signed by Missouri GOP Reps. Sam Graves, Vicky Hartzler, Billy Long, Ann Wagner and Jason Smith.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, has also asked for an investigation. 

KMOV-TV first reported the story, citing a whistleblower who said employees were told to "sit at their computers and hit the refresh button every 10 minutes" as they waited for applications to process. The company is reportedly continuing to hire new employees at its facilities.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday quoted former Serco worker Lavonne Takatz as saying workers had so little to do that she played board games. Others slept, she said. It wasn't immediately clear if Takatz was the same employee who spoke with KMOV.   

"I feel guilty for working there as long as I did," Takatz, 42, told the newspaper. "It was like I was stealing money from people."

She did not respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Based in Great Britain, Serco employs 100,000 people worldwide, including 9,000 in the U.S.

The Wentzville facility has 660 employees and is one of three contracted to process paper applications; the others are in Arkansas and Kentucky.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that it is committed to working with Serco and other contractors "to ensure that federal funds are spent appropriately and performance expectations are clear and monitored closely.

"We closely monitor the work Serco is doing relative to the number of employees they have, and we are confident that the balance is appropriate," it said.

In a statement Thursday, Serco did not address the Wentzville facility specifically but said that after securing the processing contract, it "set up operation centers and hired the necessary workforce to process paper applications and exemption requests, verify information, resolve conflicts of information, and obtain missing information."

"From October 1 through the end of April, our workforce has processed more than 1 million documents and made 1.4 million outbound phone calls to applicants. As in any business or major program there are peaks and valleys as the various tasks stop and start," the company said. "The number of staff Serco has working on the Marketplace is reviewed on a regular basis by CMS and any adjustments are made to ensure tasks are successfully completed in the most efficient manner."

The senators expressed concern that Serco "may have much less work than was expected" when it was awarded the contract, and that the company may not be successfully completing applications it receives. They asked Tavenner to respond by May 30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.