Should retired feds have to pay more for health insurance? Last week in this space a government worker, W.S. of Bowie, blamed "heavy user" retirees for the high cost of premiums which are going up an average of 31 percent in January.

His letter hit a nerve. Lots of retirees say he is dead wrong. For instance:

"The alternative to growing old isn't something we look forward to! Retirees worked and paid premiums for 20 to 40 years. Many didn't use the insurance until they retired. It would be cruel to have to pay more now. Many retirees have Medicare, which pays 80 percent of of their bills leaving only 20 percent for the federal health plan to pay."

B.H., Silver Spring

"The individual who suggested retirees pay more for health insurance is obviously ignorant of the following facts:

"A) About 99 percent of the retirees under the family plan option are paying the same premium as nonretirees with families of from 3 to 10, or more, children. (Retirees never have more than two in their plan, the husband and wife.)

"B) Many retirees are covered under Medicare, which eliminates or reduces the cost to the federal health plan.

"In fact, retirees should pay less than those still working with children and without Medicare coverage. Why should retirees pay for all the child care necessary to growing families, maternity benefits, etc.?"

W.J.M., Silver Spring

"The malpractice lawsuit situation is an underlying cause of higher fees of physicians and of hospital costs. When I read about the 31 percent increase in federal medical health insurance premiums I wonder to what extent these increases indirectly reflect those malpractice costs.

"Has anyone . . . made a cost estimate of the impact of malpractice suits on premiums? I'm one of many retirees with a little curiosity about this question."

I.Z., Washington

"Your Bowie correspondent is way off base thinking that civil service retirees should pay more because they are the heaviest users.

"Most federal retirees over age 65 use the federal plan for 'coinsurance,' which only pays for prescription drugs and balances for doctor and hospital bills after deductibles and after Medicare pays as the primary insurer. Some retirees therefore hold that federal health premiums should be lower because of the secondary role of Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Aetna, etc.

" . . . Keep in mind that retirees paid federal premiums for 20 or more years before ever using the insurance."

T.J.S., Lewes, Del.

"I'm tired of reading that retirees cause high premiums. I suggest the cost is primarily for two reasons -- treatment of drug addiction and heart bypass surgery. I resent paying high premiums to finance treatment of those who have voluntarily and illegally used drugs."

C.A., Arlington

"How old is the person who wants retirees to pay bigger premiums? Retirees paid premiums for a long time while working, and most didn't use the insurance when they were younger. When they get older and retire (on reduced incomes) they need it. Your Bowie correspondent isn't cruel to say retirees should pay more -- he is nuts."

E.S., Forestville

"I don't have a problem paying the same family premiums (for my wife and myself) as a younger worker with a wife, kids and mammoth child care and dental bills. Why should they pick on us because we are old? Some day, if they are lucky, they will be too!"

W.Y., Upper Marlboro