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Open Enrollment 2014 and the Millennial Healthcare Opportunity

It’s that time of year again. No, not the holidays, but open enrollment for your health benefits. Last week, open enrollment started for the second time for those enrolling in Affordable Care Act health plans. And, whether it’s the government’s originally reported number of 7.3 million subscribers or the revised number of 6.7 million reported last week in Bloomberg, that’s still a large number, and it’s growing every day.

For many of us who have received healthcare benefits through our employers, we are once again faced with making important decisions that impact the wellbeing of our families and ourselves. We are wondering if we have all the information we need, and we’re weighing the cost of monthly premiums against deductibles and yearly out-of-pocket maximums. But for Millennials, especially those who are going to turn 26 and will therefore lose coverage from their parent’s insurance plans, choosing a health plan can feel downright overwhelming. So where are they turning for answers and help?

If recent Communispace research is any indicator, it’s likely the Internet. So, we did a little searching ourselves and were surprised at how little help there is out there for Millennials searching for health insurance. In fact, many major health plans barely mention Millennials on their websites, if at all. One outlier is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts – they have an entire website dedicated to Millennials.

Most commercial payers may have only a page or two at most geared toward those turning 26, or for Millennials as a consumer segment. For example, Cigna has such a page, as do many other commercial payers, but there isn’t a lot out there to really help Millennials learn how to choose the best plan that’s right for them. Get Covered America has a blog post dedicated to those turning 26 with birthdays in the year 1988 (and a corresponding social media campaign, #BornIn88). But are insurers doing enough to help them learn how to make sound decisions and truly understand the downstream ramifications? Is there a bigger role to be played here, and, if so, what would that look like? Who owns it? The government? NGOs? Private payers? Healthcare professionals – whom 75% of Millennials say they trust, but who don’t have time to see them?

For those Millennials living with a chronic health condition, open enrollment holds particular significance because they face challenges the majority of their cohorts have yet to even think about. It’s about more than just having coverage now for office visits and prescriptions. Facing the highest unemployment rates in the country, and strapped with thousands of dollars of student loan debt, how are they going to pay for rising out-of-pocket costs? Their parents likely had better coverage through their employers or were able to cover some of these additional expenses with flex spending accounts. Now on their own, how do Millennials even track or plan for these additional healthcare expenses? Are they armed with the right tools, education, and skills to do so? Did their parents teach them? School? Payers?

The point is, there are distinct opportunities for leadership here. Opportunities for building brand loyalty and, thus, making dollars – by meeting Millennials’ unmet health and wellness needs and simultaneously tapping into their ever-growing buying power.

Image by 401 (K) 2012 via Flickr

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