Hundreds gathered at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on November 6 for the Health of America Forum, hosted by Independence Blue Cross and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “Millennial Health: A Call to Action” offered a chance to understand more about millennials and learn how Blue Plans are working to address the health care risks of this generation.
“Millennials are about to surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest generation, and their impact is felt in every industry,” said Dan Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross (Independence). After taking a closer look at the health of millennials, the results were shocking. “One third of millennials have health conditions that reduce their quality of life and life expectancy,” he explained.
For nearly all the top ten health conditions, millennials have higher prevalence rates than Gen X did at the same age. Millennials have seen double-digit increases for conditions like major depression, substance abuse disorder, hypertension, and Type II diabetes.
These statistics, presented in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) Health of America report released earlier this year, sparked a national dialogue on how to better serve this generation and improve their health outcomes.
Below are highlights from panels throughout the day, which offer perspectives from business leaders, health care providers, human resources professionals, and millennials themselves.
Keynote Lindsey Vonn shares her journey with depression
Key takeaway: Being open about mental health is an important first step to getting the support you need.
Cari Champion, co-anchor of Coast to Coast, ESPN SportsCenter, led a conversation with Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn to start the day.
Vonn is one of the most accomplished female skiers of all time. She’s open about the obstacles she’s faced along the way, including multiple serious injuries and related bouts of depression.
“There were more downs than ups, I would say. I dealt with immense pressure to be perfect,” she shared.
For Vonn, therapy and medication made a significant difference. She encouraged anyone who is struggling to seek professional help, emphasizing the importance of mental health care for overall well-being.
BSBCA CEOs discuss millennial health
Key takeaway: Blue plans are committed to finding solutions to the health challenges facing Americans, including better integration of physical and mental health.
Scott Serota, president and CEO of BSBCA, opened the leadership panel by taking ownership of the issues facing millennials: “We insure one in three Americans and take responsibility for improving the health status of this generation, and the ones to come,” he said.
Serota was joined by CEOs at two Blue plans — Erin Stucky of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City and Pat Geraghty of Florida Blue. Both highlighted ways their companies work to address challenges like access to behavioral health care and social determinants of health.
BCBS of Kansas City introduced a primary care model that incorporates behavioral health therapists at every visit. This eliminates barriers, like fear and stigma, that keep people from seeking help. It’s one way to integrate physical and mental health care, an important step towards better serving millennials.
Geraghty thinks of Florida Blue as a “health solutions company,” rather than a health insurance company. This enables a broader approach to problem solving – but they’re not doing it alone.
Recently, Florida Blue hosted an innovation competition for solving food insecurity. The winner received $20,000 to implement their idea in the community. The others left with a new network of people who share the same passion to help others gain access to healthy food.
How the University of Pennsylvania Health System is stepping up to address gaps in behavioral health care
Key takeaway: Millennials are a generation with purpose. Their wellbeing is our wellbeing, and we must address the gap in mental health care.
Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, opened with somber statistics. Six of the top ten conditions affecting millennials are behavioral health conditions. The other four — hypertension, Crohn’s disease, high cholesterol, and Type II diabetes, are correlated.
Yet, care is still fragmented. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 36-year-olds. Mahoney said millennials are more open to mental health care than previous generations.
“This generation is holding us accountable for more meaningful solutions,” he continued.
Penn Medicine is working to disrupt the current standard of care and create more opportunities for patients to receive behavioral health services. Mahoney shared early results of two promising new programs designed to do just that — PIC, Penn Integrated Care, and MEND, Mental Health Engagement, Navigation & Delivery.
Economic consequences of declining millennial health
Key takeaway: Millennials are not only less healthy than Gen X at the same age, they are also less wealthy. From an economic perspective, the decline of millennial health will have serious consequences if unaddressed.
Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, shared a set of findings related to the health of millennials. Moody’s Analytics analyzed Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index data and found that the accelerated health declines of millennials “will result in greater demand for treatment and higher health care costs in the years ahead.”
“Under the most adverse scenario, millennial treatment costs are projected to be as much as 33 percent higher than Gen-Xers experienced at a comparable age,” the report finds. Zandi said poorer health among millennials will keep them from contributing as much to the economy, resulting in higher unemployment and slower income growth. “The average net worth of a 30-year-old millennial is $90,000; compared to a Gen-Xer who at 30 had a net worth of $130,000,” he said.
The report also found poorer health alone could cost millennials more than $4,500 per year in real per capita income compared to similarly aged Gen-Xers.
How millennials are reshaping the workplace
Key takeaway: Millennials are a generation empowered to use their voice. Employers need to listen. Not embracing this generation is bad for business.
In defining a generation, “we’re trying to capture the spirit of a culture,” said Kim Lear, founder of Inlay Insights.
Lear said that when it comes to the workplace, Millennials expect more from employers than previous generations. It’s earned them an unfair reputation of being entitled. But their demands — like natural light in a work space, adequate paid time off for parental leave, or corporate social responsibility — are reasonable ones, according to Lear.
Lear was joined by Jonas Goldstein, health care strategies and solutions at Quicken Loans, and Eric Hutcherson, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at the National Basketball Association.
Both speakers talked about the importance of making mental health tools available to employees and reducing the stigma around mental health. Attracting and retaining employees now involves a commitment to their wellness. The conversation also addressed stereotypes surrounding millennials, and the resistance of older generations to embrace the shifts happening in the workplace.
Hutcherson disagrees with some older individuals he has spoken to who say that Millennials think they have all the answers.
“Well, they DO have a lot of the answers,” Hutcherson said.
“Working with millennials is refreshing,” Goldstein said. “If you create the environment for them, they’ll lean in. They’ll come to you with brave, new ideas.”
Enhancing the provider and millennial patient relationship
Key takeaway: To better serve all people, doctors need to be trained in behavioral health care and unconscious bias.
Dr. Rich Snyder, executive vice president of Facilitated Health Networks and Chief Medical Officer at Independence, led a discussion about the importance of a trusting relationship between health care providers and millennial patients.
Dr. Rob Roswell, from the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in New York, shared powerful stories about the importance of unconscious bias training. “We’re all biased,” he said. Not recognizing that could “perpetuate a health care disparity and cost someone their life.”
Dr. McCutchen, primary care physician at Saint Thomas Medical Partners in Tennessee, stressed the importance of creating an inclusive environment for health care: “Everyone needs to feel safe coming to the doctor. You don’t want to be the reason somebody doesn’t seek health care.”
The panel of doctors discussed medical school training, the need for more education on out-patient behavioral health care and being mindful about diversity and inclusion.
How millennials want to see health care change
Key takeaway: Millennials want a more simplified, technology-enabled health care system, and more access to behavioral health care.
When it comes to health care, millennials want the ease of experience they’ve come to expect from other industries. Maha Elgawly, Chris McLaughlin, Thomas Ritchie, and Ashlee Viergeer joined Champion on stage to discuss their experience with the health care industry.
None of the millennials on stage have a primary care doctor, or PCP. The number one barrier? Time.
“I don’t want to wait three weeks to see a doctor about a problem I’m having today,” said one of the panelists. The traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. doctor’s office hours also prevent millennials from seeking care from a PCP.
The panelists echoed conversations throughout the day about a need for better access mental health care. Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System shared an alarming stat earlier in the day: 50 percent of U.S. counties are lacking a single behavioral health therapist.
Ritchie, who started his own behavioral health practice in Arkansas a few years ago, now has six therapists on his team. Still, the practice has a waitlist of people he doesn’t have the capacity to serve. “The problem is not the demand for behavioral health services,” he said. “It’s finding doctors who can provide it.”
Millennial Health: A Call to Action
The 2019 Health of America forum was designed to inspire action and help reverse the trends we’re seeing in declining millennial health. From better integration of mental and physical health care, to an easier-to-use, more engaging health care system, Blue Plans across the nation are rallying with their communities to improve the health of a generation.
In closing the event, CEO Dan Hilferty announced Independence’s next steps in addressing this issue. The first is a unique partnership with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to addressing critical economic issues facing the region.
“Together, we are issuing a city-wide challenge to civic innovators and communities across the region. We want to engage and support their promising ideas for addressing millennial mental health challenges.”
Second, Independence will launch a community awareness campaign focused on promoting mental health wellness. This will include resources for self-care and general wellness and an effort to banish the stigma around behavior health care once and for all.
“Independence is committed to be among the first organizations to take action to affect the trends of health of our millennial generation,” Dan said.
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