On Tuesday, the government will begin mass mailings of more than1.2 million information packets to federal and postal retirees or their survivors explaining the 1982 premium and rate changes for those covered by the Federal Employee Health Benefit program.

The Office of Personnel Management, under court order, will hold an "open season" from Dec. 7 to Dec. 31, during which time federal employes and retirees can shop among more than 120 insurance plans available to them next year. OPM today will announce an average premium increase of 40 percent in the FEHB. Some plans will raise premiums by amounts ranging from $60 to more than $360 per year, with the government (which pays 60 percent of the average white-collar and blue-collar worker's premium, and 75 percent of postal workers' premiums) paying even more, in many instances.

Federal agencies will begin getting a limited number of copies of rate and benefit changes today that they are supposed to pass on to several million workers covered by the FEHB, either in the form of "reading copies" on bulletin boards and in personnel offices, or by making separate copies for each of their workers.

Getting the word to federal retirees -- who are spread out from Poolesville to Poland -- will be tougher, which is why OPM is making the special mailing even though it will not go out until midway through the open season. The packets will be mailed to retirees at their home address or wherever their annuity checks regularly are sent.

In order to get the open season data to as many people as possible, OPM is working up a special tabloid-size insert that it hopes to run in the Federal Times, the popular weekly that is the federal bible to many federal employes, especially those outside of Washington.

The upcoming open season is going to present problems for everybody. But it will work particular hardship on many retirees who often have special health problems and are especially worried about benefit cutbacks and premium hikes.