Wading through an ocean of health care benefits – sound fun? It is for Joe Walsh, human resources’ health care facilitator.

“It’s a great job,” Walsh says.

In fact, sailing the high seas is familiar to Walsh, who arrived at UCI after 26 years in the Navy. Now he guides employees through the sometimes stormy seas of health care benefits.

Walsh began his second career at the medical center in 1997, working in customer service. There he became well acquainted with the complexities of health care, particularly insurance and medical billing. His wife, Renee, has worked at UCI for nearly 30 years and is currently director of the Corporate Compliance and Privacy Office, which includes Medicare compliance.

“You can imagine what our dinner conversations are like,” he jokes.

In 1999, the health care facilitator position was created, and Walsh jumped at the opportunity.

“Everything in the job description just made sense,” he says.

Walsh was the first to hold the position in the UC system. UCI piloted the program, conceived by Julian Feldman, professor emeritus of information and computer science. UC Berkeley followed suit one month later. Now each UC campus has two health care facilitators. Glenn Rodriguez is UCI’s health care facilitator assistant.

On a daily basis, Walsh calms and comforts those he serves, handling more than 1,100 cases per year.

“Health care can be so complicated and convoluted,” he says.

Walsh provides guidance through workshops on medical and dental benefits, retirement and more. Fielding questions from a roomful of eager but often confused employees, Walsh’s extensive knowledge and infectious humor put attendees at ease.

“When people are involved and active, they’re more likely to retain the information. I tell them, ‘Ultimately, the best advocate for your health is you. The more information you have, the better choices you can make.’”

One of Walsh’s greatest challenges is staying current with industry regulations and changes.

“They’re in a constant state of flux. And I try to help people understand those changes,” he says.

His busiest time? Open Enrollment (Nov. 1-21), when employees must make important choices about their benefits. (See At Your Service.) Walsh enjoys helping steer people on the right course.

“I get to interact with every facet of the campus – from administrative assistants to department chairs. Everyone has questions,” he says. “Helping employees reach solutions is so rewarding.”

Open Enrollment ends Nov. 21

This year, UC’s Open Enrollment for health and welfare plans – the period when employees can make changes to their medical insurance and other benefits – will be Nov. 1-21.

The shorter enrollment period provides more time to process employees’ changes and deal with any administrative contingencies that may arise before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Up-to-date enrollment information is available on the At Your Service Web site, where employees can complete Open Enrollment transactions and find out about their current enrollment selections, 2007 plan rates and changes (premiums have risen, which may affect employees’ choices), eligibility rules, decision-making tools, schedules of upcoming benefits fairs and enrollment instructions. Information packets also will be mailed to employees the first week in November.