Federal workers have until the end of the month to buy a new life insurance package Uncle Sam is offering. For some people it is a good deal. iIt offers more insurance than is curently available, allows premiums to be deducted from paychecks and (next October) will double the amount of basic insurance for persons age 35 and under at no additional cost.

Some people, obviously, won't want the insurance, or will find they can get a better deal from a private carrier. Fine. The point is that you better do something -- and do it before March 31 -- or you will wind up with insurance whether you want it or not, and you will not be able to increase benefits until there is another open enrollment period; that could be several years.

Effective April 1, premiums will drop slightly for the basic insurance package. Basic insurance is equal to the amount of your current salary, rounded to the next $1,000, plus an additional $2,000. In other words, if your salary is $21,500, your new basic insurance policy would be worth $24,000. y

In addition to the basic insurance, Uncle Sam is offering three optional packages, two of them new. Option A is a continuation of the $10,000 optional program. That is, you pay extra for an extra $10,000 of flat life coverage. Option B allows an employe to pay for extra insurance, up to 5 times his/her salary. The employe pays all of that extra premium. Option C is a family plan, providing $5,000 life insurance coverage for a spouse and $2,500 for each eligible child.

Rates vary for optional insurance, according to your age.

Everybody in government -- that is, 2.8 million people -- should have received a booklet by now that explains the insurance program and premium changes. Employes also should have gotten a fold-out pamphlet outlining the highlights (for those who don't like to read the fine print), and a form that they must fill out whether they want insurance or not.

The latter has ticked off a lot of people. They think Uncle Sam is counting on their absent-mindedness or otherwise trying to trick them into taking the insurance. Federal officials say no. They say that each newly hired fedeal worker must decline basic life insurance in writing, and that with this new insurance offering, ALL federal workers, whether they have insurance or not, must reenroll. If you want to continue basic insurance and pick any new options, you must say so in writing. If you do not want to take or keep the basic insurance, or sign up for the new options, you also must say so.

Uncle Sam is requiring the reenrollment, officials say, not to trick people into buying something they don't want, but to make sure people know what is being offered, and to avoid problems with survivors of federal workers who discover, too late, that their spouse or parent didn't buy the insurance when it was offered. The federal insurance policy offers double-indemnity benefits on the basic insurance and the $10,000 optional coverage. No medical exam is required of people who sign up this month.

The Office of Personnel Management has been swamped with calls from federal workers complaining about the program. Many object to the fact that they must declare in writing that they do not want any insurance. The think this is a gimmick to trick them into enrolling. Others complain because they must sign up if they want any new benefits.

A number of major life insurance companies claim they can beat the federal insurance offering, although many require a physical exam. That decision is up to you. Everybody should study the new insurance and the options. Take them to a private insurance firm and see if you can get better coverage or equal coverage for less money. But do something and do it this month.