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Do millennials have the health insurance they need?

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Kevin Ruggeberg
Do millennials have the health insurance they need?
Do millennials have the health insurance they need?

Millions of Americans lost their health insurance during the pandemic as a result of also losing their jobs, and this issue has not gone away despite government efforts to help people find coverage. In particular, these difficulties have disproportionately affected younger workers and, consequently, their ability to get the health care they need.

Indeed, one-third of Zoomers and 29% of millennials recently told TransUnion that their health insurance was affected by the economic downturn that accompanied the pandemic, and led them to make potentially problematic decisions regarding care. By contrast, only 18% of Gen Xers and just 12% of boomers were affected in the same way.

These younger groups were also far more likely to have altered the way they think about and obtain care because of the current state of the economy. Many reported that this included deferring non-essential care. The younger generations were also far more likely to choose care providers based on cost (90% for Zoomers and 87% for millennials, but 79% among Gen Xers and 69% for boomers), and less likely to understand their financial responsibilities when paying a medical bill.

Slightly more than half of respondents, regardless of age, said they had a clear idea of what a given treatment or care would cost before they actually obtained it.

Millennials are getting older, but worry about health care.Millennials are getting older, but still worry about health care.

Why it matters
Apart from the fact that people typically need reliable, affordable access to health care in general, it's important to keep in mind that millennials are no longer all that young (despite their reputation), and some are even approaching their 40s. Aging, of course, brings with it a host of health issues, and a recent CNBC/Harris poll found that 44% of older millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1988) have at least one chronic health condition, slightly less than the 50% of the general public who report at least one medical issue.

When discussing the number of conditions older millennials reported, most were in line with the averages seen in the general public — 19% of each reported just one such condition, 9% of both groups have three, and 2% of each have five or more. The only differences were observed for people with two chronic conditions, and here, millennials (11%) were faring slightly better than the national average (15%), but worse for those with four problems (4% to 3%).

Among conditions, older millennials were more likely to experience migraine headaches, major depression, asthma, neurodevelopment disorders, eating disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, psychotic disorders, hyperactivity, alcohol and substance abuse and tobacco use, outpacing national averages. Meanwhile, millennials were better than the average only in a few areas: Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, fibromyalgia and "other." Many of the risks for the latter group of ailments will only increase as more millennials approach their 40s.

Experts agree these findings may be alarming for health care providers and insurers alike.

"At the end of the day, if these trends continue, then you'll have higher health-care costs," Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told CNBC. "You'll be exchanging the baby boomer generation for a generation with even higher health-care costs just because of normal inflation and the fact these chronic diseases are there."

Other health issues
Meanwhile, there is also a growing consciousness of mental health issues, and here, too, Zoomers and millennials are more likely to have concerns than older generations. A recent Aetna survey found that 43% of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were "very concerned" about their mental health, and 37% from 35 to 44 felt the same way. That compares to 32% of those between 45 and 64 who report such concerns, and just 19% of people aged 65 or older.

Indeed, it seems the pandemic has exacerbated these problems; younger people face far greater financially and socially; more than two-thirds of Gen Z reported financial stress amid the pandemic, and nearly three-quarters of millennials did as well. Moreover, about 1 in 4 respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 said they considered self-harm in recent months.

A helping hand
This all comes at a time when 30% of people between 24 and 40 report having no health insurance, but the top reason they cited for why they went without coverage was because of perceived cost hurdles, according to a recent GetInsured survey. More than a third didn't know they could shop for low-cost coverage on government exchanges, and of those, more than half didn't know about tax credits that further reduce the financial burden. However, 30% said they had tried to shop for coverage on these exchanges, but found them too difficult to understand.

For these reasons and more, outreach on the part of insurers, brokers and even care providers could provide a critical lifeline to many younger adults who are struggling with their health and ability to obtain coverage today.

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