Millennials' health is declining. Can employers and health plans help?

Published November 23, 2020

Millennials have seen double digit increases in major depression and significant increases in substance use disorders over the past year. The prevalence of other chronic diseases is climbing, too. This data comes from the Blue Cross, Blue Shield, The Health of America Report® on millennial health. And it’s what prompted experts and advocates to come together recently for a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) virtual forum about millennial health.

Health trends worsened by multiple crises

These worsening health trends were already in place when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then came a financial crisis, which has disproportionately impacted millennials, whose unemployment numbers are higher than other groups, according to Mark Zandi with Moody’s Analytics and a speaker at the BCBSA forum. The resulting stress may be exacerbating health conditions, in particular behavioral health.

Experts in healthcare, employee wellness, demographics and economics gathered to share ideas for supporting this generation in ways that acknowledge their needs and preferences at this critical moment.

Employers focus on wellness and engagement

Krista Larson from the law firm Morgan Lewis and Aurora Davis with Comcast shared their strategies for building a healthier workplace for millennials. Larson said Morgan Lewis has invested in fostering open dialogue among employees about mental health to reduce stigma. The firm also features a senior leader who shares personal experiences with substance use disorder. The firm has also made the most of a difficult work-from-home situation, creating virtual communities for employees to boost mental and physical wellbeing. Comcast's Aurora Davis said the company has focused on creating a healthier environment for employees. The new campus in Philadelphia, when re-opened after the pandemic, includes an onsite healthcare clinic, wellness center, physical therapist and dietician. The company has also focused on virtual stress relief tools for employees.

One rationale behind those strategies, said Larson and Davis, is that they acknowledge millennial values, a key consideration given a large percentage of their workforces are millennials. 

What millennials value in an employer

Kim Lear, a generational researcher with InLay Insights, sketched a portrait of those values and why Morgan Lewis and Comcast’s investments may be on track for attracting and keeping millennial talent, as well as helping them get and stay healthy. Millennials are more committed, she said, to companies that promote self-care, show leadership in social justice and work to keep them engaged in wellbeing.

They also, said Lear, want healthcare that’s accessible and health plans that are easy to understand. That could mean expanding access to digital options, including telehealth, which has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic. It could also mean re-thinking the design of health plans or how employers educate employees about their choices.

Health plans are making it easier for millennials to tackle chronic disease

Health plans are helping employers shape those offerings. Blue Shield of California’s David Bond said the company’s new wellness and chronic disease management and prevention platform, Wellvolution, was designed with millennials in mind. It asks users to identify their health goals and matches them to personalized, evidence-based digital health programs.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s (Wellmark BCBS) Julie Enga agreed that millennials need a path toward health beyond the primary care physician (PCP). The speakers agreed that millennials are interested in wellness but not necessarily relying as much on, or waiting for appointments with, PCPs as previous generations. Rather, they're seeking information online or going to urgent care centers. That makes it difficult to address chronic issues like diabetes or depression, which require ongoing care. Digital wellness platforms can help, engaging millennials online and on demand.

Enga also said millennials in Wellmark BCBS’ market have indicated interest in a health plan that’s simpler to use and understand, so the company rolled out a product called BlueSimplicity℠ that simplifies choices and makes costs clearer up front.

The biggest opportunity: engage millennials in behavioral health treatment

While chronic physical diseases remain a top concern about millennials, experts returned to the theme of behavioral health throughout the October 28, 2020 virtual forum. A significant percentage of people with a behavioral health diagnosis also have one or more chronic diseases. Treating both is difficult, and expensive. But engaging millennials with behavioral health conditions in treatment options that appeal to them will make managing chronic diseases easier. Employers, insurers and community leaders emphasized the urgency to address millennial mental health, especially in the face of what some are calling the triple pandemic of COVID-19, a financial crisis, and systemic racism.

Blue Shield of California and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

All company names and brands are the property of their respective owners and used for identification purposes only and are in no way  associated or affiliated with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Use of these names and brands does not imply endorsement.