Metropolitan Washington's 450,000 U.S. retirees and workers, who pay between $300 and $1,400 a year for health insurance, would get much more financial help under legislation introduced by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio).

Under Oakar's plan, the government would pick up 75 percent of the total health plan premium. Currently the government pays between 40 percent and 75 percent of the premium, depending on the plan participants choose.

Oakar's bill also would require the government to hold annual open seasons during which employes and retirees could change plans. It also would require all health plans to accept retirees and make it tougher for the Office of Personnel Management to cut back benefit levels to hold down premium increases.

The $5 billion-per-year federal health program covers 10 million government workers, family members and retirees. About half the total population of the Washington area, including most members of Congress, are enrolled in one of the 130 plans in the program.

Oakar's bill, which will get a hearing June 21 before her House subcommittee on compensation and insurance, would make major carriers in the program provide dental benefits, an attractive but very costly feature.

Health insurance is one area where the government as an employer is definitely trailing the private sector. Many companies now pay all or most of their employes' health insurance premiums. As health care costs skyrocket so does the cost of health insurance, making this a very important fringe benefit indeed.