Beginning on March 23, 2010, millions of Americans were given the unprecedented opportunity to access quality health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The act puts employees and small business owners in control of their health and wellness, and it reduces premium costs to millions of working individuals and families by providing the largest middle-class tax cut for health care in history.
While many have since purchased health insurance plans for themselves or their families, one group has earned the special focus of the ACA’s major insurance carriers: millennials. Insurance carriers consider the millennial generation to consist of individuals born from 1982 to 1998. Prior to the start of the 2016 open enrollment period, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), found that about half of uninsured Americans were millennials. As such, lowering their uninsured rates was a major goal.
Sylvia Burwell, the HHS Secretary, stated that the administration wanted to sign up a quarter of those 10.5 million uninsured Americans who qualified for coverage. While some of the uninsured were covered under their parents' health plans through age 26, many others had no coverage.
So, why are millennials avoiding purchasing health insurance? In general, young people of each passing generation feel they’ll always be healthy. Millennials do tend to be in better health compared to older generations, and they’re skilled with technology and more educated than any previous generation, which may lead them to believe they can manage their own health more effectively than did their parents and grandparents.
One other possibility is that millennials believe health insurance to be too expensive—a luxury when compared with their other, potentially more immediate, responsibilities.
Struggling to Overcome Economic Challenges
A Transamerica Center for Health Studies survey spoke to 1,171 millennials in June 2016 and found that 7 in 10 consider cost to be a "very important" factor when looking for health insurance, either covered or not covered by employee-sponsored programs.
Even though the percentage of millennials without health insurance is dropping, 16 percent of young adults still do not plan on having insurance in 2017, according to the survey. That includes 47 percent of those who are already uninsured. The most common reason: a lack of affordability.
Many young workers may be simultaneously trying to establish a home, build a career, and pay off student loans or continue post-graduate work while starting a family.
As a result, instead of immediately seeing a doctor or specialist for their health care needs, many millennials may skip, delay, or stop receiving care. There are simply too many other demands on their incomes.
A Positive Outlook
While millennials remain underinsured, there is cause for hope among insurers. According to Health Network Group, LLC,
Enrollment numbers for the last Open Enrollment Period (OEP) rank as the highest yet, with an estimated 11.6 million people having signed up for coverage as of Jan. 23, 2016. And while past years' enrollment was affected by technical problems, this most recent effort emerged with few issues overall.
Perhaps millennials will catch up to older generations as they age and reach their important life goals and milestones. For many young people, health is a given—until it isn’t. When they have more to lose, they may also feel they have more to gain by purchasing health insurance.