Martha Pietruszewski is at the age where friends are taking the leap from being on their parents’ healthcare plan to being policyholders themselves. Consequently, they’re turning to her for advice as a peer mentor and strategist for millennial women.
Pietruszewski says she isn’t sure who’s at fault, but the millennials she’s spoken with aren’t prepared to make decisions about their insurance plans. “It’s really stressful for them,” she says. “There’s a big [knowledge] gap.”
During the recent open enrollment season, the 24-year-old was fielding all kinds of questions from her robust network of Instagram followers on her account, @realmarthariley, about which options they should choose and how exactly deductibles work. Pietruszewski is working to become a mentor and strategist for fellow millennial women. Coaching peers through the health insurance transition, a rite of passage of sorts, is just one of many obstacles she helps them navigate.
Now that she’s sorted out her own health insurance plan, she hopes to act as life coach for her peers by sharing what she’s encountered along the way.
Millennials have been on their parents’ health insurance plans since birth. For many, having their own insurance plan marks the first time they are responsible for their own health. Millennials are also navigating insurance terminology, managing their deductibles, and learning about in-network care. That’s on top of student loans, first jobs, moving out, and maybe even new cars. Something’s got to give, so some millennials might let primary care slip at a time when they still feel healthy and invincible.
If the statistics bear out, millennials won’t likely choose a primary care physician once they’ve switched to their own plan. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that millennials are less likely than preceding generations to have a primary care doctor. The poll found 45 percent of 1,200 random individuals ages 18 to 29 said they did not have a primary care doctor. That’s much greater than other population groups: 28 percent for those ages 30 to 49 and 12 percent of those 65 and older.
“Millennials are busy and cash-strapped, so they go where care is cheap, effective, and easy,” says Susanne Madden, CEO of the Verden Group, a consulting firm for healthcare providers.
And, as Pietruszewski points out, millennials might not have had easy access to a primary care doctor if covered by their parent’s insurance through age 26. That’s because in-network care through your parents at home in Ohio doesn’t always translate across state lines if you get a job in Florida. Rather than bother to look for a doctor, some millennials self-diagnose. As the Kaiser study pointed out, they also aren’t as apt to schedule that annual physical as other generations.
Doctors, in an attempt to capture this demographic at a time when habits are being formed and chronic conditions can be caught and treated early, are looking to make everything from scheduling appointments to asking questions both quicker and easier for patients.
“We’re all in 2019 now and relying on smartphones,” Madden says. “The difference is that the older generations are a lot more tolerant of not having that technology. Millennials, because they’re the connected generation, they’ve directed that change. There really is a groundswell demanding this, but millennials are just leading the charge.”
In 2017, Pietruszewski jumped around to five doctors trying to find a solution for a hormonal imbalance. She started by searching online and reading reviews for in-network doctors. Pietruszewski says she kept switching because doctors didn’t listen to her or gave what seemed like a one-size-fits-all answer.
Pietruszewski eventually settled on a physician she found through a referral. She appreciated that the doctor reviewed all of her symptoms to get to the root cause of her problem. The doctor didn’t have the ability to schedule appointments online. She admits she doesn’t like talking on the phone but says that didn’t deter her from making the call.