Federal workers who are chomping at the bit to take early retirement may have to wait until 1988 to find out if Congress will seriously consider a government-wide plan that would allow some employes to leave on immediate pensions as early as age 44.

Legislation is pending in the Senate and House to temporarily relax federal age and service rules to permit hundreds of thousands of workers to leave early on immediate but reduced pensions. Under the bill sponsored by Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) and Rep. Helen D. Bentley (R-Md.), employes willing to take lifetime pension cuts could leave early during a special 90-day early-out period.

Congressional Democrats pushed by federal unions have blocked the early-out because of fears that it would trigger a mass exodus crippling vital services and opening the door to private contractors eager to take over traditional civil service functions.

But the new emphasis on budget cutting, brought on by the stock market panic, has breathed new life into the early-out plan. Under the worst-case scenario, more than 100,000 white-collar and blue-collar federal jobs could be eliminated. If that appears likely it will put added pressure on Congress to consider the voluntary early-retirement plan.

The Federal Times reported this week that Senate Governmental Affairs Chairman John Glenn (D-Ohio) has agreed to hold a hearing on the early-out plan that he has, up to now, opposed. But the committee's tight schedule makes it unlikely that any hearings will be held this year, unless massive cuts become imminent.

Under the proposed early-out plan workers could retire on immediate pensions during a special three-month period at any age if they have 25 years of service; at age 50 with 20 years of service; at age 55 with 15 years of service, or at age 57 if they had at least five years with Uncle Sam. Pensions would be cut 2 percent for each year the retiree was under age 55.

Retirees Alert

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees has sent a special mailing to its half-million members warning that the 4.2 percent raise due them in January is "in jeopardy." NARFE President Steve Morrissey says deficit reduction plans could affect the cost-of-living-adjustment due retirees, as well as a January pay raise for workers.

For the 100,000 U.S. retirees in this area the pending COLA would be worth just under $50 per month. Two years ago retirees lost out on a 3.1 percent COLA when it became the first victim of the deficit reduction act. Now there is a bipartisan effort to cut spending with everything except Social Security benefits reportedly up for consideration.

Health Plan Confusion

The federal health insurance hunting season opens Monday. Some plans are raising premiums 50 percent, although there are relative bargains for those who know where to look and what to look for.

Tomorrow at 1 p.m. on WNTR radio (1050 AM) Jamie Cowen will talk about health plan options. His firm, GRB Inc., has just published a rating guide to the health plans.

On Monday we'll begin a series of health insurance columns based on best-buy ratings of the Washington Consumers Checkbook magazine. According to the experts smart shoppers can save up to $1,000 next year if they get the plan best for their family and medical situation.