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Healthcare costs top U.S. executives' concerns: Adecco survey

By Nick Zieminski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. corporate executives are more worried about providing healthcare benefits to their employees than about issues like wages, taxes or attracting qualified workers, according to a survey by the world's No. 1 staffing company, Adecco SA.

In Adecco's poll of senior executives, 55 percent named healthcare benefits as their biggest current business challenge, and about a third say they are holding back hiring because of healthcare reforms introduced by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Obama's 2010 healthcare law, upheld this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, is expected to raise insurance costs for employers because it calls for wider coverage of more people, including those with pre-existing medical conditions.

"A lot of firms just don't know how the (law) is going to impact them financially," said Senior Vice President Janette Marx. "If it does increase costs, it causes executives to question whether they can hire more."

Obama is not doing enough to help businesses grow, executives say, and they favor Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the November 6 Presidential election by nearly 3-to-1.

Fewer than half of those polled expect their businesses to grow profits in the next year. Those who run small businesses are more optimistic than those running large ones.

More respondents also reported lower profits over the past year than said their companies grew earnings. They cited government regulation, consumer confidence and commodity prices as the biggest headwinds to growth.

Healthcare's prominence as an issue has risen since the 2008-2009 recession, Adecco found: in 2007, only 35 percent called healthcare their top worry.

U.S. hiring could pick up after the election, regardless of who wins, because employers will have one less area of uncertainty to keep them on the sidelines. Adecco is seeing pent-up demand for workers among clients in manufacturing, retail, e-commerce and in the car industry.

"Companies have been waiting until after the election to make hires they need to make," Marx said.

Adecco is the world's largest staffing company measured by revenues and is the third-largest employer in the United States, behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc and the postal service. Its poll was conducted in early October and included responses from 501 CEOs, owners, managing directors and other senior executives.

(Reporting by Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by Gary Hill)

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