Looking for the perfect health insurance plan? One you can afford, while still getting good coverage next year if you are hit with big medical or hospital bills?

Help is on the way.

Sunday and Monday in this space we shall run a special shoppers' guide for federal health insurance hunters who must decide by Dec. 23 which insurance plan they wish to cover them for the 1983 year. Picking the best plan is not easy. There are more than 120 in the government program, and premiums next year will range from a low of $300 to $1,600, depending on the kind of coverage that you select.

Premiums next year will jump an average of 24 percent, even though rates will decrease slightly for a few plans.

The federal health insurance program covers nearly half the people in metropolitan Washington. Most employes and retirees in this area are eligible for one or another of about 20 plans, but many people are confused, while many more still have not received from the government the information that compares benefits offered and the premiums that each plan will charge next year.

Smart insurance shoppers can save up to $800 in premiums and out-of-pocket costs next year--if they pick the plan that is best for them and their medical needs. Premiums are important, but they do not tell the full story.

On Oct. 10, this column ran a complete list of all the health plans available to federal workers and retirees in the Washington area. It showed the 1983 premiums for each of the plans, for high and low options within those plans, and for single or family-type coverage.

On Nov. 15, we ran a rank-order listing of health plans recommended by the Washington Consumers CHECKBOOK guide. The listing took into account overall benefits offered, premiums and other fees charged, and the likely out-of-pocket charges for persons with both "normal" and "high" 1983 medical bills. (That guidebook is available for $3.95, from CHECKBOOK at 1518 K St. NW, Suite 6000.

Sunday and Monday, with the help of the CHECKBOOK people, we are going to look at the health plans from a different angle. That is, which plans offer the best coverage in specific areas such as dental care, mental health benefits, retirees' needs, maternity benefits, catastrophic illness, and that sort of thing.

The goal is to spell out which plans you should consider if you are anticipating specific medical problems next year.

There is no one plan that is best for everyone. Some plans are strong in some areas of coverage, weak in others. The best plan for you depends in large part on your age, health, financial condition (what you can afford to pay in premiums) and size of your family.

If you are a retiree with Medicare coverage, for example, you probably can get adequate health coverage by purchasing one of the less costly, low-option plans. Retirees without Medicare coverage will need different coverage -- in many cases, a high-option plan that has higher premiums.

We hope that our Sunday and Monday columns will make it easier for you to shop in the 12 remaining days of this open season. All but one of the plans we shall list are local. The one that isn't is offered by the Government Employes Hospital Association, based in Kansas City but available to federal employes here. We shall give you an 800 telephone number that you can use to request their brochure if this plan appears to fit your insurance needs.

The rest of the plans are listed in the local telephone book. You can call them for a brochure if one is not available at your agency's insurance office.

So check this space Sunday and Monday. And good hunting!