Federal health premiums are expected to rise an average of 10 percent next year, according to Edwin Hustead, vice president for benefits of the Hay Group. Previous midyear predictions by Hustead, one-time chief actuary of the Office of Personnel Management, have been right on target.

Premium increases will be more than offset by the January federal pay raise -- expected to be 4.4 to 4.8 percent -- that should be official by late summer.

President Clinton proposed a 4.4 percent raise, but friends of federal civilian workers in Congress are pushing for 4.8 percent -- the amount on track for military personnel.

The federal health program is the nation's biggest. It covers nearly 9 million workers, retirees, current and former spouses, children and, in some cases, dependent grandchildren.

Nearly half of the people in the Washington area -- by virtue of employment or marriage or other family ties -- are covered by the federal program. It offers a wide variety of plans, options and premiums. In the Washington area, about 20 national fee-for-service plans or health maintenance organizations are available.

Unlike many private-sector health plans that drop retirees, reduce benefits or raise their premiums, workers and retirees in the same federal plans pay the same premiums and get the same benefits. The government pays about 72 percent of the total premium.

Premiums this year also were up an average of 10 percent. But many people switched to lower-cost plans. The Office of Personnel Management negotiates benefits and premiums with carriers. Using its group rate leverage and cash reserves in the program, OPM has usually kept premium increases below those for comparable private plans.

OPM will announce year 2000 premiums for all health plans during the summer. There will be the usual open enrollment period -- in late November and early December -- when anyone, regardless of age, health or existing medical conditions, can switch to another plan.

Postmaster General Honored

The Marrow Foundation has given its lifetime leadership award to Postmaster General William J. Henderson. He was honored for a Postal Service campaign to get employees to register as bone marrow donors. The registry matches potential donors with people with life-threatening blood diseases. Retired Navy Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. established the foundation. His oldest son was exposed to Agent Orange during service in Vietnam. He died after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

Foreign Language Jobs

The Social Security Administration has Grade 5 through 8 openings ($22,206 to $30,465 to start) in the Washington area for Vietnamese-, Spanish-, Chinese- or Korean-speaking service representatives. There are a few GS-7 through GS-11 jobs ($27,508 to $40,714 to start) for applicants who qualify as "outstanding scholar bilingual claims representatives." For details, call Mary Pastorious, in the Philadelphia regional personnel office, at 215-597-9268.

Wills, Trusts, Who Needs Them?

Federal workers have traditionally thought of themselves as middle-class, hardly high-rollers. But many are worth a lot more than they think. Property values, life insurance and fast-growing 401(k) savings plan balances mean that many federal workers and retirees need to protect their assets. The problem for most people is sorting out the different kinds of wills (traditional, living, etc.) and trusts.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST radio (1120 AM), Maryland lawyer Cynthia Malament will explain different kinds of wills and trusts and will answer questions about who needs what and why.

Diversity Update

At 10 a.m. tomorrow on WUST, Cheryl Julia Kelley and Rob Sadler, from Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, will talk about government efforts to increase the percentage of women and minorities in federal agencies. The elimination of more than 200,000 federal jobs has coincided with increases in the percentages of women and minorities in most federal agencies. The government is now making a special effort to recruit and promote Hispanics, who make up about 10 percent of the nation's work force but hold only about 6 percent of all federal jobs.

Social Security Update

At 11 a.m. tomorrow on WMET (1150), the Social Security Administration's Fran Valentine will discuss how Social Security works, what kinds of benefits people can expect and how it fits into retirement planning for federal workers under the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Friday, June 4, 1999