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Workers rank health care top benefit

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Seventy-five percent of U.S. workers consider a health plan to be the most important employee benefit in the workplace, according to a survey by the National Business Group on Health.

The survey, which was released last week, found that 83% of workers would rather see their salary or retirement benefit reduced rather than their health benefits. Additionally, 75% would rather receive health benefits through their employer than be paid a higher salary to offset purchasing coverage on their own.

Overall, the survey found that 67% of workers were satisfied with plans offered by their employers.

The goal of the Washington-based nonprofit's survey was to highlight what matters most to employees when it comes to health benefits and types of plans, said Helen Darling, president of the NBGH.

"The fact that so many employees are opposed to giving up any aspect of their health benefits, even in return for an improvement in other benefits, speaks volumes as to just how important they are from a worker and employer perspective," Ms. Darling said. "As the labor market tightens, employers will need to place an increased emphasis on their health benefits if they want to be able to compete for talented workers."

The survey also highlighted a difference in health coverage preferences between lower-income earners and those earning more than $100,000 a year.

Consistently, workers who make less than $50,000 prefer to have higher premiums taken out of their paychecks than paying higher copays for service, Ms. Darling said. The opposite is true for higher-income workers, she said.

Opinions regarding risky behaviors such as smoking and being overweight also were examined.

The survey found that 65% of employees would like to see smokers pay more in premiums. Meanwhile, 51% believe that overweight individuals should not pay higher premiums.

The survey, conducted in February, consisted of online questionnaires filled out by 1,619 people of various ages and income levels who work for companies with more than 2,500 employees and who are considered the head of their household. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

More information on the survey can be obtained at www.businessgrouphealth.org.