INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Large employers have lost some confidence they’ll continue to offer health benefits, according to a survey from the consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

A total of 62 percent of employers were “very confident” they will still offer benefits 10 years from now, according to the survey, which was conducted late last year and in January. That’s down from 73 percent last year.

The drop marked the first decrease in employer confidence in the 14 years the survey has been conducted, according to Arlington, Va.-based Watson Wyatt. It did the survey with the National Business Group on Health.

The survey involved 489 U.S. employers across the country, each with anywhere from 1,000 employees to more than 25,000. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The result reflects employer uncertainty about staying competitive in a fragile economy with health care costs rising faster than general inflation, a statement from Watson Wyatt said.

The company said last month its survey showed health care costs for large employers will climb 6 percent this year, for the third straight year.

But the study also found that most big companies won’t react by making radical benefit changes. Instead, they will continue to manage expenses with high-deductible health plans and programs aimed at improving employee health.

The full survey is being released Thursday.

AP-ES-03-12-09 1648EDT

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