Mention the good points of the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program, and folks will quickly point out that FEGLI premiums are much higher than those of many private plans.

Okay!

Make the case that FEGLI premiums are too high, and some folks will say, yeah, but FEGLI is still a much better plan.

This is Washington, and this is a government program, so everybody's got a point. Up to a point.

FEGLI, as often repeated here, is a great deal for some and not so great for others. Age, health and medical histories are the keys.

If you are eligible for FEGLI coverage, the plan can't say no. You can be 100 years old, smoke three packs a day or whatever, and if you want into FEGLI, you are in!

The May 3 Federal Diary ("Rare Chance to Insure Those Who Are Uninsurable") said: "Federal workers who can't get life insurance -- because of age, a medical condition, or terminal illness such as cancer or AIDS -- have what, for some, will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a substantial insurance estate."

The advice was to join FEGLI during the insurance open enrollment period that ends June 30. It may be years before there is another such open season. Eligible workers can also sign up spouses and children, regardless of their age or health.

After that column ran, many people wrote to say that FEGLI, for healthy workers, is a rip-off.

Yesterday's Federal Diary reported on a warning -- issued by the former chairman of the House civil service subcommittee -- about the high cost of FEGLI. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) sent colleagues and congressional staffers a "Buyer Beware" letter saying FEGLI premiums are much higher than those of most private plans. His letter gave examples of where federal workers could get similar coverage at much lower premiums.

Thanks to e-mail, many people responded -- all to defend FEGLI: FEGLI is a good deal for the aged and ill, even if not for most federal workers. After doing his life insurance homework, Reginald H. Greenwood Jr., a computer specialist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advises the following:

"Before workers ditch FEGLI they should be aware that nonfederal companies wave nice, cheap premiums in front of you . . . but don't tell you that more than likely you will not qualify because of family health history, your health, age, sex or whatever. Under FEGLI, it is understood that the insurance carrier must cover everyone. . . .

"A financial planner should be used to determine where you can economize by tailoring your insurance needs to meet your goals and objectives. The additional [FEGLI] `options' can be expensive when you get older, and your term insurance is `diminishing life' after a certain period. (Paying more under FEGLI and getting less.)

"Private insurance plans don't tell you up front you must buy a rider or attachment to cover your premium payments if you become injured or disabled and can't pay the premiums." (Under FEGLI, the government will pay its share of the premium for basic coverage if an enrollee is injured or disabled, but the enrollee must continue to pay his or her share. For optional coverage, the enrollee must pay the full premium regardless.)

Bill Smith, insurance expert for the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, adds that "one of the advantages of FEGLI is that employees can keep their basic insurance coverage without any increase in premiums even if they are disabled. The enrollee and the government continue to pay their share of the premium."

Whether working or retired, enrollees pay the full share of the FEGLI premium for additional coverage: option A (a flat $10,000), option B (one to five times salary) and option C (family coverage).

`Windfall' and `Offset'

When they retire, many federal workers could find that the Social Security benefit they expected could be trimmed as much as $250 a month by the "windfall" law. Other retirees, hoping to collect a Social Security spousal or survivor benefit, may see that benefit eliminated by the "offset" law because they get their own civil service retirement benefit.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST radio (1120 AM), the Social Security Administration's Fran Valentine will discuss who can expect what under the windfall and offset laws.

FLRA Update

At 10 a.m. tomorrow on WUST, Joe Swerdewski, general counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, will talk about the agency's mission and programs to resolve in-house disputes in government.

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