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To the editor: I read with interest your Aug. 17 editorial, "Trade Group Plans Worth a Look," in support of association health plan legislation. Congress finally has an opportunity to help rather than hurt the small-employer market. Hopefully, the Senate will adopt the House's language and send a bill to the president that includes relief for the larger segment of employers, the small employer.

As the chief financial officer of a small employer, I know firsthand how difficult it is to provide valuable health care to our employees. Although we have only 18 full-time employees, they are located in five states. This makes it practically impossible for us to offer uniform benefits similar to those of the large employers with whom we compete to recruit and retain qualified employees. We have virtually no choice; we are forced to offer our employees insurance plans that generally provide lower benefits and higher costs.

Permitting small employers to pool their resources through trade associations makes economic sense. That can only expand coverage to millions of employees who work for small employers. I can understand why state regulators and insurers would oppose a bill of this nature; it would provide competition in lieu of a monopoly and would undermine states' ability to load up ridiculous mandated benefits as part of their political agenda. Yes, it is time for the small employer to get a break. We hope to see this legislation passed and signed by the president.

Again, thanks for covering this important issue and for your obvious support. Let's hope that our politicians agree and have the guts to pass this legislation, and that our president signs it!

Wellington Hall

Chief Financial Officer

Kinder & Associates Inc.

Santa Ana, Calif.