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Posted January 30, 2019


This week we continue our series of blog posts exploring the unique healthcare needs of each generation and what resonates with each when it comes to healthcare marketing and decision-making. Whether you’re an HR professional, a third-party benefits administrator or an employee benefits consultant, our hope is to leave you better prepared to engage each generation with their healthcare benefits. First, we covered Baby Boomers, then Gen X. Today we turn our attention to Millennials, also known as Gen Y.


Millennials: A generational profile

If you were born between 1981 and 1996, you can consider yourself a Millennial. You are part of the largest living generation and the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in American history. You are also part of the largest generation currently in the U.S. workforce (that’s been true since 2016, when this generation surpassed Gen X in number), so that one in three American workers today is between the ages of 23 to 38.

Pew Research Center notes that politics have had a big role in shaping the collective identity of this cohort: “Most Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and many were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of that moment. … Millennials also grew up in the shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sharpened broader views of the parties and contributed to the intense political polarization that shapes the current political environment. And most Millennials were between 12 and 27 during the 2008 election, where the force of the youth vote became part of the political conversation and helped elect the first black president.”

 Fiscally speaking, Millennials were dramatically impacted by the Great Recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s and had to enter a struggling job market while also dealing with historic levels of student loan debt. This economic downturn had bearing on everything from Millennials’ life choices to their future earnings. However, Millennials have made a notable recovery, as young adult households now earn more than older generations did at the same age (the median adjusted household income for a Millennial was $69,000 in 2017). Pew reports that this generation is making more than other generations because Millennial women are working more and being paid more than women in previous generations.

Of course, Millennials also came of age during the explosion of the always-on internet era—with many beginning to use computers and cell phones in elementary and middle school. Technology has had a tremendous impact on their communication methods and preferences and perhaps even on the way their brains are wired.


Health benefits concerns unique to Millennials

Because they cut their teeth on the internet, it’s no surprise that Millennials have utilized it to be more savvy consumers of healthcare. They are more likely than other generations to search for the online rating of a doctor or hospital.

Millennials are also the least likely to have a primary care physician. When the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 1,200 randomly selected adults in 2018, it found that 45 percent of respondents between 18 and 29 years old do not have a primary care physician (as compared to 26 percent of all respondents). Traditional hospitals are working to bridge the gap with younger patients by hiring additional physicians to speed care delivery and leveraging technology—e.g., patient portals and digital tools—to increase engagement with younger patients.

According to a Washington Post story, “Many young adults are turning to a fast-growing constellation of alternatives [to traditional hospitals]: retail clinics carved out of drugstores or big box retail outlets; free-standing urgent care centers that tout evening and weekend hours; and online telemedicine sites that offer virtual visits without having to leave home. Unlike doctors’ offices, where charges are often opaque and disclosed only after services are rendered, many clinics and telemedicine sites post their prices.”

One report found that Millennials can expect to face poorer health in middle age than their parents did—attributing problems with employment, relationships and housing as factors that could lead to this generation’s increased risk of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease later in life. And a study from King’s College London found that lonely millennials are more likely to develop mental health problems and to miss work than their peers.


Tips for engaging Millennials with their healthcare benefits

Benefits matter to Millennials more than other generations. They’re more likely to accept a job with lower pay if the employer has a cushy benefits package in place. Here are some tips on how to design a healthcare benefits communications strategy that appeals to them specifically.


  • Reach them where they are. Since more than nine in 10 millennials own a smartphone, and almost all use the internet regularly, technology solutions will be a cornerstone of any healthcare benefits communication plan. Provide Millennial employees with online tools and resources that will make it easy for them to learn about and engage with their healthcare benefits.
  • BUT encourage them to also look beyond the internet for health insurance information. Millennials engage with their smartphones more than they do with other humans and struggle with loneliness in great numbers, so encourage them to look beyond technology for help making healthcare decisions. As our own Jeff Bakke, chief strategy officer at WEX Health, recently toldS. News & World Report, it’s not a bad idea for Millennials to acquire benefits information the old-fashioned way—by asking their friends and Gen X parents about their coverage. “Even if you’re still on [their healthcare plan], your parents can be a valuable resource,” he said. “What have they found to be the best health insurance? What tips can they share on issues that have arisen?”
  • Help them develop a longterm vision. One unique challenge with this younger generation is to instill in them an appreciation for the importance of health insurance and for saving money for healthcare expenses during retirement. To help them understand that insurance is not optional, try educating them on the simple facts—for example, that medical expenses are the most common cause of bankruptcies in this country and that the average couple retiringtoday at age 65 will need $280,000 to cover healthcare and medical costs in retirement. And since Millennials likely won’t be as concerned as older generations about dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis or heart disease, get them thinking about how they can use health insurance to be prepared for accidents and other unexpected health expenses.
  • Create benefits plans that foster human connection. For this generational cohort, which tends to eschew regular medical care in favor of DIY diagnoses and to put off care to save money, it’s especially crucial to create healthcare benefits that will link Millennials to a healthcare provider they can trust. Employee Benefits News says HR and benefits managers should consider how their benefits can help establish long-term provider-patient relationships but also cater to Millennials’ acute care needs, such as same- and next-day appointments.
  • Provide benefits that make healthcare more affordable. To introduce Millennials to tax-advantaged accounts like health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs), develop talking points about how these accounts can provide Millennials with key tax-free savings and withdrawals(if used for qualified medical expenses) and also offer them a way to gain some financial security.


Stay tuned for our blog post on Generation Z. And for more insights about how to ease workers’ concerns about the rising cost of healthcare, download our WEX Health 2018 Clear Insights Report.  


WEX Health

WEX Health