I Keep the Affordable Care Act Working, But Can’t Afford to See a Doctor

Photo by Abby Anaday

I love my job.

Every day I get to answer phone calls from some of the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Affordable Care Act and help them get the healthcare benefits they need.

Even though I do an essential job, my employer — the federal call center run by Maximus in Tampa, Florida — does not pay me enough or provide me with the healthcare benefits needed to be able to treat my own health condition.

Maximus signed a 10-year deal worth $6.6 billion in 2022 to field calls about the federal healthcare marketplace and Medicare. The company has 10,000 employees across 12 call centers, mostly in the South and Southwest.

Companies like Maximus that are getting so much government money should have to create good jobs with liveable wages, decent benefits, and the right to unionize — the same conditions that federal workers enjoy. President Biden has taken some important steps, especially to set high standards for construction workers on new big infrastructure and clean energy projects. But more needs to be done to make sure service contract workers like me get a fair reward for our labor — instead of letting so much of public money go to rich executives and shareholders.

While many of us at Maximus who field calls all day make around $17 an hour, our CEO, Bruce Caswell, got a 17 percent raise last year to $7.3 million. Over the past four years combined, Maximus has awarded Caswell over $27 million and spent over half a billion dollars on stock buybacks and dividends to enrich shareholders.

This September will mark 10 years of working at Maximus for me. My only major raise in that time came when President Biden set the minimum wage for all federal contract workers at $15 dollars in 2022. While we appreciate the pay hike, for a single mother of two the minimum doesn’t cut it, I need a real living wage. Instead, my only raise in the last two years was 22 cents.

Our healthcare benefits aren’t much better. I’m supposed to visit the doctor every three months to treat a chronic health condition, but because our deductibles are so high, I haven’t been in two years.

Because of the issues with pay and healthcare, last year I joined the campaign to unionize Maximus workers with the Communication Workers of America. The process is long and different locations are moving at different speeds, but we’ve already had some victories.

After we protested our high health costs, Maximus dropped our health insurance deductibles significantly.

We need more help, though. I’ve participated in several protests at my call center demanding $25 an hour and increased benefits from Maximus.

I’ve also gone to Washington, D.C., to call on the Biden administration to follow through on its promise to create “good jobs” with federal money. Last fall I even got to take my daughter with me to speak with lawmakers in Congress.

I’m not going to quit because I don’t feel properly valued or because the benefits are not good. I’m going to stay and fight within the company to make it better, because the ACA is a great program that is helping millions of Americans.

And even though I know that I can be fired at any time — Maximus laid off more than 700 employees in one month last year — I’m standing up for my rights. I’m standing up for a better company and for a better future for my children.

Katherine Charles is a federal healthcare marketplace customer service specialist at the Maximus call center in Tampa, Florida.