As open season kicks off, OPM uses Web to get word out

Monday - 11/14/2011, 8:23am EST

Shirley Patterson, assistant director of federal employee insurance options, OPM

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Open season for health care benefits, which kicks off today, brings complicated choices for federal employees.

Shirley Patterson, the assistant director of federal employee insurance options at the Office of Personnel Management, said the agency turned to a new channel of communication to get the word out this year: webcasts.

"Each year, we try to communicate to our population the changes that we are having in open season as well as the benefits that we are offering for them to join during open season," Patterson said in an interview with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

But each year, only about 5 percent of employees actually switch their health plans, she added. And many are unaware of other plans available to them, such as dental and vision coverage and a flexible-spending account.

The live webcasts offer a way for OPM official to educate and directly engage with federal employees that have questions, Patterson said.

The webcasts, which feature OPM experts explaining plans and taking questions from the online audience are also archived on OPM's website, she said. So far, the webcasts have averaged more than 6,000 hits.

Patterson said the webcasts offer a more interactive approach than a simple, recorded lecture on health plans. "We feel that that's a way of having people ask questions and having the experts there to answer them directly," she said.

"The webcast allows us to give information and take questions ... it's more engaging of the audience," she said. "And it also helps us to understand: What are federal employees looking for? ... What types of questions are they having? What types of information do they need to make an informed decision during open season?"

Patterson said launching the webcasts required many hours of hard work. "But what helped us the most is that we have the experts here who know these programs extremely well," she said. "So it's just a matter of getting our employees to be on camera for a while. And they've done extremely well."

There are two webcasts remaining in the series. The previously aired webcasts are available on OPM's website.

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