NU Online News Service, Feb. 11, 10:08 a.m. – The need to control rising health insurance costs is the top employer priority in the employee benefits arena, reports a new a survey by Deloitte & Touche LLP and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefits Specialists.

It is the fourth consecutive year that the upward march of health and welfare expenses has topped employers’ benefits-related agenda, according to the survey takers.

Employees, who have seen their nest eggs eroded by the free-falling stock market, cited retirement issues as their key concern, the survey found.

Almost 86% of employer respondents chose controlling health and welfare costs as one of their top five priorities. For 67%, it was their number one objective.

“This survey finding re-emphasizes how critical cost management remains for employers,” says Richard Kleinert, a principal with Deloitte & Touche’s human capital advisory service practice. “Clearly, cost is still king.”

Other high priorities cited by employers included complying with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and similar state and local employee privacy laws, expanding technology for benefit communications and administration and providing financial planning tools to employees.

Aside from cost control, key objectives of employers included attracting and retaining employees, mentioned by 12% of those surveyed, and compliance and fiduciary issues, cited by 10%.

Among employees, 64% said they are most concerned about evaluating current investment options.

Sixty-one percent of employees said evaluating current levels of retirement savings is their most pressing concern. Forty-four percent put identifying additional ways to save for retirement at the top of their list.

Forty percent said learning more about health risks was most important, and 36% said using the Internet to manage financial programs was.

“With the downturn in the economy, many employees have experienced dramatic decreases in their retirement savings,” notes Mary L. Komornicka, president of ISCEBS and senior vice president of Marshall & Ilsley Trust Company. “Indeed, many employees have been forced to reconsider when they will be able to retire.”