COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, was designed to extend group health insurance benefits to those leaving an employer by allowing a person to stay with that group at their own expense.

It was intended as a life boat. As those using it discovered, it is a very expensive life boat. Who knew health insurance was that expensive in 1986?

We all know today that while health care is one eighth of our economy, it affects 100 percent of those in our economy. You cannot do personal financial planning without a plan for financing present and future personal and family health care. This component has grown in cost since 1986, and its complexity now is beyond most individuals.

A plan of action requires that whatever your health care coverage or costs may be, you must accept the fact that in some ways it will change. How much things will change and to what degree they will shift is a continuing challenge.

Because of advances in the state of the art, life expectancy has been greatly extended. This means that your window of exposure to health care costs has been extended as well. You need a longer-term plan. You need to watch as new laws and new rules take effect and ask yourself exactly what all this means both short and long term given your station in life.

COBRA was easy to understand in 1986. Health care today is not. “To be continued” is not the best of planning elements to deal with, but that is our challenge. This gives new meaning to the “change is constant” principle. Watching everything closely day to day is the best we can do.

Jack Falvey is a frequent contributor to the Union Leader, Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal. He can be contacted at