How to Win Friends and Influence Millennials: Health Exchanges Edition

America is only a few months away from Exchange Day—October 1, 2013—when the state and federal health exchanges open up for business. And when they do… well, I’d surprised if a whole lot happens at first; most people assume they open on January 1, 2014. But eventually there will be a flood of people streaming into the exchanges (virtually) to search for health insurance plans, including the Millennials.

Why? A variety of reasons. One is that people like being insured and prefer it to the uncertainty of being uninsured; those previously unable to purchase a policy they could afford now have subsidies to help them do so. Another is that people largely don’t have a choice—forego purchasing health insurance and get fined.

But the bottom line is this: whether compelled to do so by the safe feeling of being insured or the specter of a fine, Millennials are expected to be an enormous group of entrants into the exchanges: while we make up only 22% of the population, we account for 38% of the uninsured in America.

To compound our already-stratospheric opinion of ourselves, we know that the Millennials are a coveted market for health exchange insurers. Face it: you want us. Bad. That’s because we’re relatively healthy, loyal to brands we like that we see as having a positive impact (70% identify as being brand loyal), and we could actually be the first generation to recommend our health insurance plan to others.

So, culling from Millennial research, surveys, and conversations with fellow Millennials, here are a few morsels of unsolicited advice on how to win us over.

We’re just not that into you. Engage us without being… you know, you.

Listen: we don’t like health insurance companies. There’s just no chemistry between you and us, you know? Honestly: we like you less than we like Comcast. A hurtful truth, to be sure, but you needed to hear it.

You want to engage us so badly—doing so bodes well for your bottom line. But how?

Partner with the cool kids to make staying healthy easy.

Right now, the “cool kids” are the organizations that are using technology to prevent their customers from getting sick – or if they’re already sick, helping them get well. Some are in mobile health (mHealth), others are a part of the “Internet of Things,” and some are going social. All are capturing data – largely without customers having to do a thing. This is known (in slightly creepy verbiage) as “automated hovering”—the ability to collect data without input from the user.

For a physician, it’s great; ideally, a system will tell him/her when a patient’s health is deteriorating or if a patient isn’t complying with the treatment plan—it’s like having an assistant constantly monitor the health of all of his/her patients.

But automated hovering is even better for patients, and (due to our unique and everlasting relationship with technology) the Millennial generation is primed to use it to become—and stay—healthy.

Here’s a simple example of how automated hovering can spur better outcomes: medication adherence. As a nation, we are terrible at it, leading to higher healthcare costs—to the tune of $300 billion per year, according to one estimate. This is a tiny area of health care ripe for innovation, and there are myriad organizations researching and designing items to increase adherence, creating everything from simple text message platforms to “smart” pill bottles. In the latter case, if Larry doesn’t take his medication on time, the pill bottle sends him a text message to gently remind him; if he still doesn’t take his medication, his case manager or physician will get a text.

So the cool kids have the brand cachet and the technology to make staying healthy easy. Most consumers—and basically all Millennials—have the technology and the know-how to benefit from the applications. And let’s face it: we love anything that makes our lives easier.

As a health insurer, you’d benefit from healthy customers, and you need a way to connect to Millennials—it’s a match made in heaven. Partner with these companies; acquire these companies. Do whatever you need to do to help identify your brand more with health and technology than with rescissions and Snidely Whiplash.

Don’t be evil.

This isn’t complicated – just don’t be evil, don’t sound evil, and don’t look evil. Millennials are extremely brand-conscious and associate with brands more than previous generations. The Affordable Care Act actually makes this pretty easy for you, with its regulations on preexisting conditions, rescissions, and more.

Admittedly, none of that advice is particularly earth-shattering. But this is a whole new ballgame for you, health insurers, and any edge you can get over your competitors is to your long-term benefit; attracting Millennials is one way to do that. So, partner with organizations that have brand cachet, and don’t be evil—you should be able to do that, right?

Hopefully. Remember: October 1 is creeping closer every day.

Mike Miesen is a healthcare consultant and recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently on loan to the Ugandan Ministry of Health (via NGO), leading a project to reduce maternal mortality. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeMiesen and at Project Millennial, where this post first appeared.

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