The Office of Personnel Management kicked off a 50th-anniversary "open season" for the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Program yesterday with a cake and testimonials.

The open season, the first in five years for FEGLI, runs through Sept. 30. During this month, federal and postal employees can enroll in the program or change their coverage without having a physical or answering questions about their health.

FEGLI is the largest group life insurance program in the world, covering more than 4 million government employees, retirees and their families. Established on Aug. 29, 1954, it is the oldest benefits program run on behalf of federal and postal employees.

Kay Coles James, the OPM director, said the open season will provide an opportunity for employees, especially those who have married, purchased homes or become parents, to easily adjust their life insurance coverage.

OPM has set up a special Web site -- www.fegli2004.opm.gov -- to explain the program's features. It includes a calculator to allow federal and postal employees to price the various combinations of coverage offered through FEGLI, James said.

The program provides basic life insurance coverage and three options that include coverage for up to five times an employee's base salary and coverage for eligible family members. In most cases, new federal employees are automatically covered by basic coverage.

FEGLI's coverage is provided through MetLife, which has been the program's only contractor in its 50-year history. While MetLife administers the program, FEGLI premiums are set by OPM actuaries.

Craig J. Guiffre, MetLife's senior vice president for group insurance products and strategy, joined James in toasting FEGLI yesterday. Other speakers included two federal retirees -- Maurice L. Hill and David F. Sullivan -- who enrolled in FEGLI in 1954. Sullivan is the national secretary for the National Association of Retired Federal Employees.

Federal employees who are in good health and planning to buy more than basic coverage may want to compare FEGLI's premiums against those of commercial policies and those charged by nonprofit groups such as the Worldwide Assurance for Employees of Public Agencies Inc.

For example, a 45-year-old man who does not smoke, is not overweight and in good health can purchase a 10-year policy worth $250,000 from MetLife Financial Services in Falls Church for $321 annually, Gustavo Camacho, a MetLife representative, said. A 45-year-old woman would pay $286.50 in premiums, he said.

Under FEGLI, a 45-year-old federal employee earning $50,000 pays $202.80 annually for basic coverage worth $52,000. To get $200,000 of coverage on top of that, the employee would pay an additional $468 -- for a total annual premium of $670.80.

Employees also will want to consider other factors when comparing policies. In FEGLI, employees, regardless of their health status, can keep their coverage as long as they keep paying their premiums. They can continue their coverage into retirement if it was in effect for at least five years prior to retirement. And they get accidental death and dismemberment insurance as part of their basic coverage at no additional cost.

Employees called to active duty in the National Guard or reserves can retain their coverage at no cost for the first 12 months they are on leave without federal pay and can resume their coverage upon return to their regular job.

OPM said yesterday that new FEGLI coverage chosen during the open season will become effective in September 2005.

Retirements

Art Hylton, taxpayer education and communications area director at the Internal Revenue Service, retired May 1 after 37 years of federal service.

Benita Myers, taxpayer education and communication territory manager at the Internal Revenue Service, retired Aug. 1 after 31 years of federal service.

Frances Sundine, an accounting technician at the IRS center in Kansas City, Mo., retired Aug. 2 after 56 years and nine months of federal service.

Diary Live Today

Please join me for a discussion of federal employee and retiree issues at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com