Work-related myths can be costly, confusing and dangerously misleading.

Decades-old rumors of a super- retirement plan are revived and cause some workers to delay their departure.

A newer myth, about an upcoming pension purge, could push some feds out before they are financially able to retire. Medicare subsidy myths make some federal retirees think they are paying for the health premiums of younger retirees and feds who are still working.

Myths have two things in common: They are wrong, and they eventually disappoint.

Today's Monday Morning Quarterbacks raise some interesting issues and ask some good questions. One reader--who is raring to go--wants confirmation of a new-to-her rumor that has, in fact, been around forever. Thirty years ago it was known as the 5-by-5 plan. The idea is that Congress has or will offer feds an early-retirement deal they can't refuse. The deal would boost pension benefits about 20 percent for life while paying feds a big chunk of money to retire early.

Look out the window; there go Dorothy and Toto!

Another reader wonders why retirees with Medicare subsidize the premiums of those without, and why two-person families subsidize premiums of big families.

Let's deal with the early-retirement-super-bonus rumor first:

Today's first Monday Morning Quarterback is a postal clerk in Syracuse, N.Y., who asks about the super-early-out-bonus plan.

"Would you have any information about an early-retirement offer in the U.S. Postal Service? . . . We have heard that individuals taking early retirement will have five years added to their age and get an extra five years' credit for service time, plus either $5,000 or a full year's pay." Also, she has heard that folks who reject the offer will be shifted from the old Civil Service Retirement System into the newer Federal Employees Retirement System.

There is no government plan to give workers a big cash settlement, and an added five years of age and service credit, to get them to leave early. Think about it!

Nor is there a "secret" law that will force workers from CSRS into the FERS program to save money. First, it isn't true. Secondly, the Office of Personnel Management and the Congressional Budget Office both say that FERS costs taxpayers more than the CSRS program. Why push people from one to the other?

Thus die all rumors. Until next time!

Other comments from readers go like this:

* "You recently mentioned a possibility that the judiciary may offer buyouts in the future . . . [If so,] is three months a reasonable period to wait, or do you think judiciary buyouts are a long shot?"

Frank B.

The column didn't say the judiciary "might" offer buyouts; it said they "could" offer them. But it hasn't yet, and probably won't.

* "Why do married people with no children have to pay the same family rate as families with one to 10 or more children?

"Why do retirees with Medicare as their primary insurer still have to pay the same premium as younger people who do not gain the benefit . . . of Medicare being the primary insurer?"

Martin S.

Point one: It's a group plan with shared risks. At some point, some people in the group subsidize--or are subsidized by--others in the group. Old people pay for young couples to have children and buy braces for same. Younger people pay for the increased medical-care costs of older people. Middle-age people who don't have children, and who don't use their insurance at all, subsidize both groups. People who live quiet, safe lives subsidize people who engage in dangerous sports or activities. Etc.

Incidentally, the idea that retirees with Medicare somehow subsidize the federal health program is incorrect, according to Bill Smith, of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. He says there is "no reduction in federal employee health benefits premiums when Medicare becomes the primary payer . . . [because] for Medicare eligibles, the federal health plan becomes Medigap coverage. . . .

"Few if any Medigap plans provide the level and extent of coverage of the federal health plan, particularly at such reasonable premium cost. Also, the federal health plans continue to pay many of the health care services, even though Medicare is the primary payer. . . .

"In essence, the combination of Medicare and the federal health program provides nearly complete coverage, with little out-of-pocket expenses. And by waiving both their own and Medicare's deductibles, your federal health plan does absorb some further expenses."

Monday, Sept. 27, 1999