Health insurance premiums paid by federal workers and retirees are going up an average of 5.3 percent next year. That is the smallest rise since 1987. This year, premiums went up an average of 13 percent in the program that covers half the people in the Washington area.

The U.S. program helps pay the medical bills for nearly 10 million current and former federal workers and their families. It serves as a trendsetter, both in terms of premiums and benefits, for other plans. There are about 300 plans in the federal program, including about 25 available to people here.

The Office of Personnel Management, which negotiated the agreements, says some plans will actually cut premiums, and others will have only modest increases. The government will continue to pay about 60 percent of the total premium, and the U.S. Postal Service will pay about 75 percent of its employees' total premiums.

Employee premiums for Blue Cross-Blue Shield's standard options will remain unchanged at $16.92 and $35.55 biweekly. Its high-option self-only premium will go up $9.12 every two weeks for individuals, and $19.02 for family coverage.

The popular Mail Handlers' plan will go up less than 70 cents a pay period for both its single options, and less than $1.50 every two weeks for its family packages.

Workers and retirees in GEHA next year will pay 98 cents more a pay period for single coverage, and $3.43 more for the family plan. Premiums for the National Treasury Employees Union and Foreign Service health plans will actually drop slightly.

One of the biggest increases will come in the Alliance Plan. Employee premiums are going up $70.45 a pay period for single high option, and $21.68 for family high option coverage.

Next week we will list the premiums for each health plan available to workers and retirees here.

There will be an open enrollment period -- from Nov. 13 through Dec. 10 -- when workers and retirees can pick their 1991 health plan. Furlough Congress

Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) says members of Congress should suffer the same financial hit as federal employees who get furloughed because Congress and the White House haven't approved a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Parris promised Wednesday that he will take the same percentage pay cut as his constituents for as long as they are furloughed. He has invited other members of Congress to join him. Who Works for Uncle?

With the battering that federal workers are taking, many are beginning to wonder why they ever joined the government. Tomorrow at noon on WNTR radio (1050 AM), Harry Redd and Kathy Naff will discuss worker attitude surveys by the Merit Systems Protection Board. Furlough Update

At 10 a.m. Monday, WAMU (88.5 FM) radio host Dianne Rehm looks at the psychological and financial impact of the furloughs faced by many of the area's 360,000 federal workers.