Utah Power & Light Co. President Verl R. Top-ham has been named chairman of a Blue Ribbon Committee of Utah business and community leaders that will gather information and recommend action on holding down spiraling health care costs.

Topham's appointment was announced Friday by James F. Welch and Wendell J. Ashton, co-chairmen of Utahns for Non-profit Hospitals. Welch is senior vice president of American Express. Ashton is publisher emeritus of the Deseret News."Hospital costs are now rising 12-14 percent a year," said Welch, noting that non-profit hospitals provide 74 percent of Utah's hospital beds. He said average group health insurance costs climbed 17 percent during 1990 for major health insurance subscribers.

Welch noted that General Motors and Chrysler Corp. have said that $600 of the price of every car produced in the United States goes for health care costs of autoworkers. It is said that Chrysler spends more on health care than it does on steel.

Ashton said top executives at Intermountain Health Care and Holy Cross Health Services, Utah's two largest hospital organizations, have assured him and Welch that they will "cooperate fully" in providing information and suggestions to Topham's committee.

Before appointing Topham, Utahns for Non-profit Hospitals met with executives of some of the state's largest employers, said Ashton. "They expressed support for creating the Blue Ribbon Committee and the objective of making every effort to reduce the large increases in health care costs that exist not only in Utah but across the nation."

Still, Ashton said, Utahns are getting superior health care compared to other states as studies indicate Utah hospital costs were only 74 percent of the national average in 1989. "Our people expect more in health care, and they get it," he said.

But action must be taken to hold down the soaring annual increases, he said. "Our Utah and American manufacturers and distributors are put at a real handicap when they must compete globally with manufacturers and distributors in other countries where they often pay only a fraction of our amounts in employee health care costs."

Topham, a native of Paragonah, Iron County, joined UP&L in 1972. Moving up through the ranks, in Dec. 1989 he was named president and chief executive officer of the Utah Power division of Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp, which had earlier acquired UP&L.

He currently serves on the boards of the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, Business and Economic Development Corporation of Utah, Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee and Utah Public Education Foundation.