Some married-without-kids federal couples continue to complain about discrimination: Why should they pay the same family health insurance premium as co-workers with a house full of children?

Last Monday's Federal Diary noted that the childless federal worker couples could save money on premiums: Each could buy a self-only plan, though they might be required to meet two deductibles, which would wipe out their savings. That suggestion didn't satisfy many people.

The federal health program is the ultimate group plan. It charges young, old, healthy and sick the same premiums in the same plans.

Some private firms offer single-plus-one premiums that are lower than family premiums. But they also stick it to retirees, either dropping them when they retire (or hit age 65) or cutting their benefits and making them pay higher premiums.

Backers of the group rate concept point out that at some point in time, some individuals or groups are always subsidizing--as in paying the same premiums as--some other individual or group. But many couple-only families still resent what they see as premium discrimination. Here are some reader comments on the subject:

* "My wife and I were both federal employees and enrolled in two single health care plans instead of the family plan. Yes, we did save money. BUT. My wife got pregnant and we decided to switch back to the family plan during open season. We were able to make the switch. However, Blue Cross took many, many weeks to process the paperwork. Meanwhile, the hospitals, doctors, etc., were all asking for our [family] policy number, proof of coverage, etc. It was a very stressful ordeal that we did not need at that time in our lives. For me it was not worth the $$$ saved."

-- Mark H. Hutchens

* "In its '10 Worst Mistakes' pamphlet, the National Association of Retired Federal Employees warns that while two self-only enrollments cost slightly less in premiums than one family plan, there are several benefit losses that may outweigh the slight premium savings. 'Two self-only enrollees must bear separate deductible, co-payments, coinsurance and catastrophic protection benefits. For example, the Blue Cross standard family catastrophic level in 1998 was $2,000 (if preferred providers were used). Each enrollee in two self-only plans would have to meet the $2,000 level (or $4,000 total). The most important reason for health insurance coverage,' the NARFE pamphlet says, 'is to protect against the catastrophic expense that may happen, and this approach may be penny-wise and pound-foolish.' "

-- Jim Barnett, president, NARFE Carroll County Chapter

* "I am a single parent with one child. When I worked for private industry, the firm transferred me to a plan for 'single parent, one child.' I resent having to pay for family benefits, as it would be cheaper for me to get two 'self-only' plans, and I am not allowed to do so. Is there any way to get this category added to the federal health program?"

-- Marian Kroen

Two comments: It is unlikely the government will add another category to the health program. Also, see the previous letter, which points out a major advantage of a family plan, even if it covers only two people.

* "Are these careerists who work 80 hours a pay period and have no children and who complain about not getting a . . . discount for not having children for real? God help us all."

-- G. Sean O'Neill

Yes. See next letter.

* "My wife and I are both government workers. We have made a decision not to have children. So why must we pay the same family premium as a large family, or be forced to choose two self-only plans to save premiums? Please don't launch into another lecture about it-takes-a-village to run a group plan. This discrimination against childless, married couples is simply unfair."

-- Tom and Toni

* "The continuing discussion about who should pay which health premiums has brought to mind a revolutionary thought: What if we all felt responsible to one another as members of society, and we especially treasured our children as our nation's future? Then we would all pay health care premiums to support one another, especially our children and families who make the sacrifice to raise them.

"This carping over having to 'pay for' children makes no sense to me. We were all children once and someone 'paid for' us and we owe it to the next generation to care for them as we were once cared for. It doesn't matter if they are our biological children or not. . . . They are our human future and deserving of our care and support, just as our elders are. Our own immediate selfish desires for more disposable income are less important."

-- Jane Hurst

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