Improving Millennial Healthcare: A Reflection on BCBSA’s Millennial Health Forum

December 17, 2019

On November 6, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and Independence Blue Cross hosted the inaugural 2019 Health of America Forum, Millennial Health: A Call to Action. The Health of America initiative was created to leverage data to overcome today’s healthcare challenges and lead the way to better healthcare and health outcomes in America. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies insure to 1 in 3 Americans (107 million), which makes them a major stakeholder when it comes to critical healthcare decisions. As the director of utilization management at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC), I was fortunate to represent Blue KC at the forum. The event hosted a diverse group of individuals ranging from business and thought leaders, physical and behavioral health providers and key stakeholders to address the state of millennial health in our country.

The first-ever Health of America conference served as a platform to discuss a new millennial health report led by Moody’s Analytics in collaboration with the Association. The report revealed that of the top 10 conditions affecting millennials, six are behavioral health conditions, while the other four are physical health conditions, and include major depression, hyperacitvity and anxiety. There was an exponential increase in the prevalence of these conditions between 2014 and 2017. Also, compared with Gen Xers at the same age, there was a higher burden of these conditions. These alarming statistics pose major economic consequences for millennials especially because behavioral conditions are more costly to manage.  

The forum proposed the following solutions to improve the millennial health and mitigate some of the barriers:

  • Improved access
  • Curbing the opioid crisis
  • A focus on social determinants of health
  • Expanded mental health benefit offerings and access
  • Offering affordable health plans and coverage
  • Designing concierge care models that offer personalized and unique experiences
  • Ensure care is patient-centered and culturally sensitive
  • Leveraing technology to simplify care and offer alternative options such as Virtual Care

Throughout the day, I attended numerous panels and discussions and was able to hear unique perspectives on how we can bolster the state of millennial health in our country. Here are some of my takeaways:

Mental and physical health are correlated.

Olympic gold medalist Lindsay Vonn was the keynote guest. During her interview, she discussed the importance of behavioral health and how deeply intertwined it is with physical health. She shared her personal struggles with depression while dealing with major physical injuries, and how ready access to world-class mental health providers significantly improved her overall health outcomes. Other themes that arose from Lindsay’s session:

  • Access to healthcare is crucial
  • Patient education on the importance of specific treatment options
  • Patient empowerment is at an all-time high which so much readily accessible information out there such as WebMD and “Dr. Google”
  • Access, convenience and coverage are critical in today’s healthcare

Along with other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, Blue KC is devoted to millennial health

Scott Serota, President and CEO of BCBSA, moderated a CEO panel with Erin Stucky, Blue KC President and CEO and Pat Geraghty, Florida Blue President and CEO to discuss how Blue plans are committed to strengthening millennial health in their respective areas.

Erin discussed Blue KC’s integrated primary care model, Spira Care, which incorporates ready access to behavioral health providers at every visit. Pat highlighted Florida Blue’s focus on social determinants of health and the investments they’ve made to local community-based organizations. He also pointed out Florida Blue’s efforts to combat the Opioid Crisis.

Declining health among millennials bears economic consequences.

Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, took the stage to discuss the unique economic challenges millennials are facing. Millennials are not only less healthy than Gen Xers at the same age, but also less wealthy. In fact, the average net worth of the average millennial today is about $90,000 compared to Generation Xers, who had a net worth of about $130-$140,000 at the same age. The 2008 recession, rising student loan debt, the opioid crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just a few factors that have shaped the  overall millennial perspective and financial situation. From an economic standpoint, the decline in millennial health will have major consequences if unaddressed.

Millennials are reshaping the workplace.

This panel discussed how millennials expect more from their employers than previous generations have, which has earned them a reputation of being “entitled.” Millennials expect a lot more from their employers today, due to their unique situation. Workplace flexibility, worskpaces that focus on health and wellness, diversity and inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility and benefits such as paid parental leave are key for millennials. Millennials also bring a strong value proposition to the workplace such as bravery, innovative ideas, continuous feedback, participation and engagement, experience ownership, technology savviness, to mention but a few.

Millennials are now managing and leading large teams across the country, hence are major stakeholders when it comes to crucial conversations, particularly ones that concern them.

Medical care goes beyond physical health – so training should, too.

These sessions focused on the importance of improving communication in the healthcare setting. A conversation among medical professionals highlighted the need for medical training to focus on diversity and inclusion, implicit and unconscious bias, culturally-sensitive care and the interconnectedness of physical and behavioral health. Millennials want an affordable, simplified, technology-enabled health care system and easy access to behavioral health care. The number one barrier that millennials face when seeing a doctor is time. They need medical care that accommodates their busy schedules.

The 2019 Health of America forum aims to inspire action and help reverse the declining trend in millennial health. From better integration of behavioral health in the primary care setting to improving the access challenge, Blue Plans across the nation are rallying with their communities to improve the health this unique generation.

More specifically, Blue KC in 2020 is focusing on launching a new behavioral health initiative, expanding Spira Care centers that incorporate access to behavioral health services, social determinants of health, and continuing the millennial health dialogue among stakeholders in the Kansas City community. The event was extremely valuable and provided practical insights to further improve millennial health in Kansas City. Personally, I hope to apply these takeaways into my role at Blue KC to improve our members’ health outcomes while working toward a more accessible and affordable healthcare experience.