The clock is ticking towards October 1, 2013 when public insurance exchanges are set to go live and begin offering health plan benefits to an estimated 30 million previously uninsured Americans. And as that day draws closer, all parties involved—plans, providers, employers, and patients—are scrambling to figure out just what it will mean to them from a cost and quality of care perspective. Yet, perhaps one of the biggest conundrums associated with the health insurance marketplace is how to deal with the potential sticker shock facing younger Americans and the ripple effect it could have on everyone. Specifically, with an age band as narrow as 3:1, there is a possibility that premiums for younger people (who tend to be lighter users of service) will be considerably higher in order to compensate for older Americans, who typically utilize more health care services. When combined with a relatively low penalty for not getting coverage, there is a very real fear that many of these ‘young invincibles’ will forgo coverage and simply choose to pay the penalty.
So, the question becomes, ‘how do we articulate the value of health coverage to this younger generation?’ or, in other words, convince them that coverage is relevant (and worth it) to them?
We need to help this younger population understand and believe that healthcare is not solely about supporting the sick – support is also critical for the well. For example: a recent college grad that is just starting out in his/her career and may have issues dealing with the stress of that new job; the twenty-something who runs marathons but wants to improve their nutrition; the new mother who wants to start a workout program to shed some of the baby weight; or the avid skier who suffers a knee injury on the slopes and wants to understand what treatment options are available to them.
These scenarios play out each day across the U.S. and could happen to just about anyone between the ages of 18-35, not solely older people or those with chronic conditions. And there are programs, resources and tools focused on shared decision making and wellness that are critical components of modern healthcare that young people can take advantage of. So at the core, the solution for this current dilemma needs to be about making the younger population aware of these resources because they support behaviors that contribute to better health and wellbeing. Specifically, we need to create a culture that encourages all people—including the younger population—to think differently about their health, make more informed choices, and understand not only the resources at their disposal but also the value they provide. If we can do that, we will go a long way in positively impacting the health and wellness of these younger generations and controlling spiraling healthcare costs.
Robert Mandel, MD, MBA, is the CEO of Health Dialog and has more than 15 years’ experience in senior leadership positions in health systems and health plan management.