Millennials with chronic health conditions have higher utilization rates than older generations: UnitedHealthcare report

Individuals aged 27 to 42 in 2023 with chronic health issues are using healthcare services at a significantly higher rate than older generations, according to a new white paper from UnitedHealthcare and the nonprofit Health Action Council.

The report published Feb. 9 analyzes claims data from UnitedHealth Group representing 126,000 individuals and foretells a future of potentially higher healthcare costs for employers and payers.

"Everyone needs to react to this because the way you treat a baby boomer is completely different," Craig Kurtzweil, vice president of UnitedHealthcare's Center for Advanced Analytics, told Becker's. "The millennial population and their kids want care in a very different way — they don't necessarily want to leverage a standard brick and mortar primary care physician, and they're using urgent care, the emergency room or virtual care in a very different way than older generations."

Five key takeaways:

1. Compared to Generation X (born 1965–1980), millennials (1981–1996) are 106 percent more likely to go to the hospital for diabetes-related issues, 55 percent more likely to visit the emergency room or urgent care for hypertension, and are 31 percent more likely to visit the ED/UC and 29 percent more likely to visit the hospital for obesity-related issues.

2. Utilization rates for emergency, urgent and virtual care per 1,000 individuals:

  • Generation Alpha: 564.8
  • Generation Z: 709.1
  • Millennial: 761.2
  • Generation X: 664.2
  • Baby boomer: 514.7

3. While Optum's analytics most frequently predict financial stress and social isolation to be the most common SDOH for millennials, the Health Action Council reported that the most common SDOH codes submitted by providers are family issues, employment problems and psychosocial circumstances.

4. Compared to pre-pandemic rates, behavioral health utilization has increased 35 percent for millennials and their children.

5. Pregnancy is the largest clinical cost driver for millennials, accounting for 21 percent of employer spend. Millennial pregnancy costs are 14 percent higher than Gen Z (born 1997-2012) and 1 percent higher than Gen X. Pregnancy-related millennial ER visits are 23 percent higher than Gen X, but 59 percent lower than Gen Z.

"It's a turning point right now for the whole industry to think about because we still have a little bit of time, but not too much time," Mr. Kurtzweil said. "Employers and payers need to react to this and say, we have a population that is no longer invincible, they have chronic disease, they don't use PCPs, and they want to use virtual care. If we don't adjust and meet them where they are, we will have major non-compliant chronic populations across the U.S. That's going to lead to a rapid escalation of costs."

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