ByDeborah Austin U.S. employees rate health-care coverage as a top benefit and would like more control and choice than employers realize, suggests a new study from global outsourcing and consulting firm Hewitt Associates, Lincolnshire, Ill. Of workers enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans, 55% ranked health-care coverage No. 1 in importance; 82% ranked it No. 1 or No.2. In fact, two-thirds deemed it a primary factor in deciding to stay or leave a place of employment versus 34% who said it's a basic need but secondary to pay, retirement benefits, time off and flexible work schedules. But employers underestimate consumers' desire for more choice, flexibility and control, says Jack Bruner, national practice leader for Hewitt's health-management practice. Of participating employees, 88% felt "somewhat or extremely" comfortable with researching, choosing and maintaining their coverage, yet just 61% of employers believed workers had this comfort level. Employees also placed higher priority than employers on benefit enhancements such as access to advocates and customized health-plan designs.