Bored by health insurance? Do you stick with the same plan each year because you are too busy to keep up with premium and benefit changes? You may be on the verge of blowing several thousand dollars next year.

The way to make sure you do is to ignore the federal health insurance shopping season that starts today. If you aren't a comparison shopper, the odds are you are paying too much for health insurance and aren't bothered by it.

Your other choice: Do some research. Find several plans that look good, then check premiums. A little effort now could save you lots of money next year.

For example: If you are a single federal worker who has average medical expenses, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 in premiums, fees and out-of-pocket costs next year if you pick the right plan. If you don't, be ready to shell out $3,000 or so more for identical services and treatment.

There is no single best plan. But there are many good buys, according to Checkbook's "Health Insurance Plans for Federal Employees," due out today. For the last dozen years, the $5.95 guidebook (available at 806 16th St. NW, Suite 925, Washington, D.C. 20005) has rated health plans. Author Walton Francis ranks plans according to how much they will cost you -- in premiums, membership fees and out-of-pocket expenses -- in a year.

Checkbook says a single nonpostal worker with average medical costs next year will pay about $490 if enrolled in the Johns Hopkins health maintenance organization or about $1,000 if in the fee-for-service plans offered by the American Postal Workers Union, GEHA or Blue Cross-Blue Shield's standard option. Pick the Alliance high option, the guide says, and you probably will pay more than $4,000 next year.

Later columns will report on best buys for families, retirees and people with special medical needs. Today's Checkbook ratings show a plan-by-plan estimate of what a single worker could be expected to pay next year:

American Postal Workers Union, total cost to you next year of $1,050.

GEHA, $1,060.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield standard option or the Mail Handlers high option, $1,070.

National Treasury Employees Union plan, $1,130.

Alliance standard option, $1,150.

Mail Handlers standard option, $1,160.

Postmasters standard option, $1,250.

Letter Carriers (NALC) plan, $1,450.

Postmasters high option, $2,690.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield high option, $3,070.

Alliance high option, $4,420.

Save more, Checkbook says, by moving to an HMO or a preferred provider option (PPO). The American Postal Workers Union's PPO, for example, would cost a single employee about $830 next year. The Blue Cross PPO option would run about $1,020.

Workers selecting HMOs offered by Johns Hopkins, MD-IPA, Potomac Health, Kaiser and CareFirst could expect to pay less than $600 in total next year. Other HMOs would range from $650 to $800. Even the most costly HMO (PruCare, rated as costing a single person $1,050 next year) is less expensive than most fee-for-service plans.