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Employee benefit professionals' top priority for 1997 is monitoring health care reform legislation, according to a recent survey by the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists and Deloitte & Touche L.L.P.

Monitoring and responding to state and federal health care reform legislation is a priority on the agendas of 38.3% of the 426 survey respondents who listed their top six priorities for the year, survey results indicate.

Other top priorities include: developing investment education programs and materials, mentioned by 33.3% of the respondents; improving quality of benefit communication, 26.3%; evaluating/implementing Internet/Intranet applications, 25.8%; designing/conducting retirement planning sessions, 24.9%; and evaluating alternative health plans and increasing 401(k) participation, both mentioned by 23.2% of respondents.

"In 1996, we saw the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the issue of new guidelines from the Department of Labor which provide clear guidance to employers on what they can and cannot tell their employees about investing," Jean Rose, president of Brookfield, Wis.-based ISCEBS, said in a statement releasing the results.

"These federal directives help explain why health care reform and communications and education issues came out on the top of the list," Ms. Rose said.

The emphasis on communication and education reflected in benefit professionals' priorities also indicates the focus on encouraging the Baby Boom generation to adequately prepare for retirement.