There are probably 279 ways to look at health insurance premiums in the federal employee and retiree program, because that's how many different options will be offered in 2006.

The Office of Personnel Management announced an average premium increase of 6.6 percent for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program next year. (See story, A29.)

But FEHBP enrollees will see a wide range in premium increases, from 2.5 percent to 15 percent, as they choose their coverage for next year, OPM officials said.

The premium increases are determined by the government's cost-sharing formula, and OPM officials said yesterday that it appears that an increasing number of enrollees have switched coverage and chosen lower-cost plans.

Under the 2006 formula, the government's share of the average premium will go up 5.2 percent and the employee's share will climb 10 percent. The government will pay $220.45 of the average 2006 biweekly employee premium, and enrollees will pay $93.74, OPM said.

Linda M. Springer, the OPM director, announced the premium changes yesterday. She stressed that the rate of increase in the federal program has been less than the average for the private sector in recent years and that the federal program compares favorably with other large plans.

She and other OPM officials noted that prescription drug costs are no longer surging and appear to be falling in line with general medical inflation and technology costs. Officials also pointed out that the program's demographics appear to have stabilized, apparently because the government has been hiring younger workers in recent years.

Still, many Washington area employees will see their premiums increase. One of the most popular plans, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield standard option, with about 4 million enrollees, will cost about 14 percent more next year. (Premiums for Blue Cross basic, which provides no coverage outside the company network, are not changing.)

Last night, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), who has taken a special interest in the health benefits plan, called the 10 percent average increase in the employee's share of premiums "disconcerting" and said he would ask the Government Accountability Office to review the rate-setting process of the federal program.

Management Upgrade?

In a bid to ensure sustained attention to management issues at the Department of Homeland Security, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) has introduced a bill to create a deputy secretary for management in the department.

The department has an undersecretary for management, but some members of Congress believe that the job needs more clout to oversee 22 agencies and 180,000 employees.

Voinovich's bill would make the proposed deputy secretary the third-highest-ranking official in the department. The position would come with a five-year term.

The Big Event

Are you ready to celebrate the Constitution?

Under a new law, sponsored by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), federal agencies are required to observe Constitution Day on Sept. 17, in honor of the date in 1787 when the document was signed at the Constitutional Convention.

The law requires agencies to provide employees with educational and training materials concerning the Constitution each year.

The National Archives has kicked off the commemoration with a series of events, and C-SPAN plans to air live a speech by Byrd from Shepherd University in West Virginia at 4 p.m. today.

The departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have posted information about the famous charter on their internal Web sites. The Labor Department plans to send out an all-hands memo, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao will deliver a keynote address today at an Ellis Island ceremony to swear in new citizens. The Justice Department will hold a forum, featuring a slide show and commentary, in its library this morning.

On Monday, the State Department will host a reenactment of a meeting attended by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others, presented by the American Historical Theatre in Pennsylvania. The event is for department personnel only and is not open to the public.

The performers also plan some interaction with State employees, a "presidential" news conference.