The nation's largest health insurance program--the FEBH that covers 9.2 million federal workers from the president to the plumber -- is still on "hold" pending the outcome of a complex battle between factions in the executive branch, Congress, federal unions and the powerful Washington medical community.

In normal times the Office of Personnel Management would, by now, have announced a bewildering new array of benefits, and premiums, offered next year by the 100-plus carriers in government's in-house health program. Feds in turn would be thumbing through various brochures, seeing what is being offered and at what price for 1982. Then, they would begin selecting the best, most economical health plan for 1982. But times are not normal.

OPM, which negotiates benefits and premiums with the carriers, says the program is too costly to taxpayers. It has demanded that carriers raise deductibles to the $200 level; require those insured to pay more out-of-pocket for treatments, reduce federal payments for psychiatric care, and eliminate nonemergency abortion benefits in 1982.

OPM and the American Federation of Government Employees are in court on the abortion issue (AFGE wants to keep the benefit, OPM says that since the House has voted to ban them, abortions should be stricken from the government program).

OPM, Congress, the White House and news media are being flooded with calls and correspondence from patients and well-connected psychiatrists about mental benefit cutbacks. OPM is being called on the carpet Monday by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who wants to know why the agency is demanding that the American Postal Workers Union slash benefits to reduce 1982 premium increases -- which affect what all other federal workers will pay -- or get out of the program.

Officials and union leaders (and harried reporters) trying to figure out the health plan mess hope it will be settled, soon, that benefits and premiums will be announced, and that workers can get on with the business of picking the best plan for them next year.

One thing is sure, however, whenever the controversy ends: Health premiums are going up next year (look for an average rise of around 11 percent, with some plans going up 30 percent or more), and benefit levels will be cut, meaning you will have to pay more for health coverage, and more out of pocket for treatments, next year.

The government could probably save itself, employes and the taxpayers (who foot 60 percent of the health insurance premiums) a bundle if it started all over again, letting potential carriers slug it out and chose only those offering the best benefits at the lowest cost -- dropping the rest.