The big jump in 1988 health premiums may drive many U.S. workers and retirees into less costly health maintenance organizations. While some of the traditional health plans are raising annual premiums as much as $1,000 next year, many of the HMOs (which limit the choice of doctors) are holding the price line or cutting premiums.

Premiums next year are scheduled to go up an average 31 percent. But averages are confusing, especially when you consider there are more than 200 plans in the federal health program, between 20 and 25 of them available here.

On average, the government pays 39 percent of the total premium. But again that is confusing, because the government payment formula is so complex.

For example: Blue Cross-Blue Shield will charge $182.83 for its high-option family plan. But Uncle Sam will pay $77.48 of that, as the government will for Aetna, where the total biweekly premium is $180.90 for a similar plan.

Two other large plans, GEHA and the Mail Handlers, will charge biweekly premiums of $110.06 and $97.58, respectively, for their family plans. But the government will pay $77.48 of the GEHA premium and $73.19 for the Mail Handlers plan.

Generally for HMOs, the government pays a larger share of the total premium, which helps keep down the rates paid by federal employes.

Federal workers will have from mid-November through December to shop for health insurance coverage for 1988. Meanwhile, here are some of the 1988 premiums for some of the bigger plans in the Washington area. The figures are next year's biweekly premiums for white-collar workers. Retirees pay monthly, and postal workers usually pay less because of their union contract.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield: High-option self-only coverage $50.84, up $16.85; high-option family coverage, $105.35, up $31.59; low-option self only, $13.73, up $5.20; low-option family, $26.58, up $7.59.

Aetna: High self $61.31, up $24.03; high family, $103.42, up $43.30; low self, $16.42, up $7.79; low family, $39.95, up $21.49.

American Federation of Government Employees: High self, $32.26, up $13.61; high family, $68.85, up $30.33.

National Alliance Plan: High self, $41.33, up $22.95; high family, $127.50, up $66.80.

American Postal Workers Union: High self, $14.47, up $2.23; high family, $28.94, up $5.48.

GEHA Plan: High self, $16.51, up $4.37; high family, $32.58, up $9.87.

National Association of Letter Carriers: High self, $23.7, up $3.21; high family, $41.13, up $5.75.

National Association of Government Employees: High self, $26.72, up $6.92; high family, $68.52, up $18.85.

Mail Handlers Plan: High self, $9.44, up $2.44; high family, $24.39, up $6.32.

National Federation of Federal Employees: High self, $28.80, up $9.85; high family, $70.30, up $24.80.

Many of the health maintenance organizations will get only modest premium increases in 1988, and several will actually cut premiums.

CapitalCare premiums will go up just more than $1, while those of the George Washington University health plan will drop by amounts ranging from $2.25 to $11.11 per pay period. Kaiser will also cut 1988 premiums by $1.83 to $11.85.