MADISON, Wis. (8/23/10)--More than a quarter of Americans report reducing their use of routine medical care since the recession began in 2007, says a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (New York Times Aug. 16). That’s nearly five times comparable numbers for Canada, three times greater than in Britain, and two and a half times greater than in Germany—countries where universal health care systems operate. Individuals and families in all countries studied have lost income because of unemployment and lost wealth because of falling stock prices. Many are being forced to make hard choices. This news is juxtaposed with new research from the American Cancer Society and the Livestrong Foundation that shows, in 2008, cancer alone cost the global economy nearly $895 billion in economic losses from premature death and disability (CNN Money.com Aug. 17). Researchers contend that disability and premature deaths from cancer are greater costs to productivity and the economy than any other cause of death. Cancer is projected to be the world’s leading cause of death, at 20% higher than heart disease, which caused $753 billion worth of economic losses in 2008. “While the two studies are not linked, the reality is that these economic times are driving some consumers to make poor choices,” noted Jim Hanson, vice president of the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) center for personal finance. Those who've lost jobs are particularly hard hit. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act) is a federal law that allows individuals to buy the health insurance their employer formerly provided. Standard COBRA rules give employees 60 days to decide to purchase insurance by paying its full cost for up to 18 months. Doing nothing as COBRA coverage expires is the biggest mistake consumers can make, according to Ankeny Minoux, president of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE), San Jose, Calif., and reported in CUNA's Home & Family Finance Resource Center. FHCE offers easy-to-use information, including a state-by-state review of public programs, to help people learn more about health-insurance options. Susan Tiffany, CUNA’s director of consumer periodicals, recommends consumers having financial difficulties and no health care coverage visit the Find a Health Center website from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide helpful resources for consumers and advice. For more information, read “Anticipate End of COBRA to Maintain Health Insurance” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.