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Nov 14, 2012

That didn’t take long.

Just one week after an online petition made news by calling for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give health benefits to part-time disaster workers responding to Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. government changed its policy.

The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees federal worker benefits, granted “certain employees who work on intermittent schedules” enrollment in a Federal Employee Health Benefits plan. The rule went into immediate effect on November 9.

More than 113,000 signed petition

“This regulatory change removes a longstanding barrier to [Federal Employees Health Benefits] coverage for FEMA’s disaster assistance employees who are helping the recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” said John Berry, director of OPM.

The agency referred to the decision to grant seasonal firefighters health benefits in July as a sort of precedent for offering benefits to reservists, or part-time disaster workers, according to a government document. Currently, reservists make up the majority of about 3,000 FEMA employees sent to areas affected by the hurricane. Until Friday, they were offered federal health care benefits only when deployed.

Dena Patrick, author of the petition on behalf of FEMA workers, said the petition — and the public awareness spread through social media — was behind the relatively quick action. She heard about the change when FEMA workers had started to contact her after they heard the news within their organization.

“Contacting the heads of the various agencies wasn’t even necessary. This was truly a grassroots, from the bottom up, movement,” Patrick said. The petition had more than 113,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

This article was reprinted from Kaiser Health News with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.