Cash vs. Customization- What Young Americans Need from Healthcare

Like visiting a doctor, enrolling in health insurance is still one of the least desirable activities among younger Americans. Policymakers have crafted incentives to get the young and healthy interested in signing up, but prior to enrollment for 2017 “there were still 10.7 million Americans who remained uninsured, but were eligible for coverage through an Obamacare plan. About 40 percent of those uninsured are adults between 18-and 34-years-old.”

Policymakers on both sides of the aisle have tried out and proposed a number of methods to get “young invincibles” into the health insurance market. A common theme for both is using financial incentives and penalties. In the ever-changing ACHA bill, Republican policymakers proposed younger people getting a $2,000 tax credit while older ones getting up to $4,000. This is essentially a “financial penalty for those optioning out of enrolling in insurance entirely,” to receive a tax credit instead of a “subsidy.” Under the ACA Americans at lower income levels, which many young Americans are, can get a subsidy to cover the costs of their enrollment.

The problem? Young Americans seem fine with paying a penalty as opposed to signing up, they often don’t realize they qualify for a subsidy, or they aren’t taking on conventional financial responsibilities that require them to be consistently enrolled in health insurance.

The ACHA also proposed a penalty for anyone not receiving continuous care. The bill proposed, “allowing insurance companies to charge a penalty equal to 30% of the monthly premium to someone that didn’t have coverage for 63 continuous days.” This seems largely out of sync with how many people aged 18–34 live in this country. People are getting married later, having children later and taking careers within the increasingly popular gig economy. These factors can deter many from thinking about health insurance, until they absolutely need it. So what else are lawmakers in Washington missing?

Young Americans will react to financial incentives, but they also crave brands that provide a customized experience. A young person today wants to purchase products and follow organizations that account for a mobile lifestyle while being able to still make them feel personally invested in a product or a company. This requires a more thoughtful consumer approach even compared to a decade ago. This is where policymakers should take note. Outside of creating a healthcare system that is affordable for young people, they could promote enhancements to customize the entire health experience.

The ACA pushed on providers to digitize medical records and create a culture of coordinated care. Just like syncing up calendars and cloud sharing accounts this ease of coordinating online life should translate to someone’s health as well. While providers are working to implement both, policymakers should take note of how young Americans respond and what they can do to make online health systems stronger.

Some providers and companies are changing this. Companies like Zocdoc allow patients to make their appointments online and allow them to rate providers. They’ve even made the task of finding a medical specialist easier by allowing people to search using layman terms and emojiis. Zocdoc is building a concept that enables a patient-powered search, deciphering what a patient is seeking, and forgiving common spelling errors and gauging what a user’s actual intent is.” Young people may be first to use these technologies, but as evidenced with the rise of ride-sharing and photography apps, once people realize how much more convenient a part of their life can become they will adapt to it.

I was recently encouraged by my providers to setup an online account. Now I have been able to clear up confusion about upcoming appointments and email my doctor about renewing a prescription. The sheer act of not having to call a doctor’s office, be put on hold, then told I was speaking with wrong person and 30 minutes later getting to make an appointment, made the creation of my online account worth it.

Policymakers have a big debate ahead of what healthcare and access should look like in this country. But a major part of this work is ensuring young and healthy people are an active part of our health system. They are missing out on an opportunity to change health care for the young by only focusing on the financials and not what younger people want, a personalized experience. This can be a big lift especially for providers in low-resource areas, but our market can’t survive without young Americans participation.

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