February 16, 2006

Healthcare costs a major obstacle to hiring -survey

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) - Soaring healthcare costs
are a major obstacle to hiring, and employees can expect to
take on a bigger share of the burden, according to a survey of
U.S. chief executives released on Thursday.

Nearly two-thirds of CEOs expect benefit costs to
accelerate this year, with 86 percent calling the issue either
very important or the most important challenge facing policy
makers, the survey by the Business Council and The Conference
Board found.

The survey, which found optimism about overall business
conditions was growing, highlighted healthcare costs as a
"major obstacle" to taking on new workers, with 42 percent of
respondents subscribing to that view.

The Council, whose members are gathered this week for
policy discussions in Boca Raton, Florida, found that 46
percent of CEOs think healthcare should remain an employer's
responsibility, with none saying it should not.

To control costs, 80 percent of companies are demanding
employees increase contributions, and a majority is
experimenting with initiatives like healthcare spending
accounts, or using discounts to reward a healthy lifestyle.

About a quarter -- 26 percent -- are reducing benefit
coverage outright.