Posted: 16 Jul. 2020 12 min. read

Understanding differences among baby boomers could help MA plans attract and retain enrollees

by Abby Ruiz de Gamboa, principal, and Leslie Read, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Less than 10 years from now, the entire baby-boomer generation will be eligible for Medicare. While these 73 million people are all part of the same generation, their preferences for health care and health coverage vary. Understanding the differences between younger boomers and older boomers could help Medicare Advantage (MA) plans attract new members as they become eligible and retain existing ones.

As our expectations about aging continue to change, and as COVID-19 continues to make waves across all aspects of health care, health plans should regularly review strategies for attracting and retaining members. They should consider the attitudes, tastes, and interests of potential and existing members when they design future benefit offerings, messaging, and network strategies.

A few years ago, we took a nuanced view into the baby-boomer population, segmenting it into two groups: "leading edge" (ages 65-74) and "trailing edge" (ages 55-64). Trailing-edge (younger) boomers are the next wave of Medicare enrollees, while leading-edge (older) boomers have already aged into the program. These two populations differ in many ways from the older Medicare beneficiaries (age 75+).

Using the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ 2020 US Health Care Consumer Survey, we took another look at these populations to see what additional trends we could glean from the data. 

The basic needs will likely not change drastically 

When it comes to the basics of health coverage, most people are looking for the same things: coverage, affordability, and stability in products. Younger boomers do not look that different from the older boomer population or those who are 75 or older. Each group ranks those same issues as priorities for their health plans. While younger boomers are more willing to look to sources other than doctors for health information, they tend to consider the same information sources as older boomers and Medicare enrollees who are 75 or older.

Future Medicare enrollees appear to be even more interested in using technology to support their health care needs than current enrollees

Health plans should consider reviewing their member-engagement strategies to help ensure that they are emphasizing access to digital-support tools and are taking opportunities to engage with members virtually. Younger boomers appear to be more willing to use technology to access care outside of the usual setting, like in the home. For example, more than one-third (36%) of younger boomers say they are comfortable using an at-home blood test paired with an app to track their health (vs. 29% of both older boomers and older Medicare enrollees). Many younger boomers also expressed an interest in using technology to help them access care, specifically medication reminders via voice assistants (35%), sensors to monitor heart or stroke risks (35%), and drones for delivering prescription medications (32%). 

Younger boomers (42%) are significantly more likely to use technology to measure their fitness and health-improvement goals compared with older boomers (26%) and older Medicare members (19%). Nearly three out of four (74% of) younger boomers say their use of fitness or health devices led to a “great deal” or “moderate amount” of behavior change (vs. 59% of older boomers and 49% of older Medicare enrollees).

Younger boomers may need more behavioral health support 

MA plans will likely need to go beyond traditional services to support future enrollees. For one, younger boomers are  generally more likely to say they feel nervous or anxious (35% vs. 28% of older boomers and 20% of older Medicare enrollees) or sad or depressed (27% vs. 21% of older boomers and 18% of older Medicare enrollees). Also, younger boomers are more likely to say they are interested in services that support them outside of the traditional health care system, such as services that provide access to fitness and nutrition coaches or can help them understand their health benefits.What will COVID-19 change? 

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions conducted its 2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers between February 24 and March 14, shortly before the strictest precautions against the COVID-19 pandemic were put into place across the US. Even then, about 18% of younger boomers said then they had experienced a virtual visit—double the%age cited by older boomers and older Medicare enrollees (9%)—and we expect this trend to continue. 

According to Deloitte’s Health Care Consumer Response to COVID-19 Survey, which was conducted in April, 85% of younger boomers say they feel anxious or afraid due to COVID-19. Just 74% of older boomers said they had similar feelings. Younger boomers also appear to have more negative feelings about their health insurance company: less than half say their insurance company gave them confidence about their safety (47%) or made it easy to understand their benefits (45% vs. 63% of older boomers for both questions). 

While younger boomers are slightly less inclined to share their personal health information, the willingness of both populations rose after the COVID-19 crisis, especially for sharing information with health insurance companies and national health care providers. It could be that this population values interoperability of their own data, especially during a pandemic and a time when virtual care has become more normalized. 

What are the no-regrets moves MA plans can take for 2021?

As MA plans prepare for the 2021 annual enrollment period, they should recognize that people who are newly eligible for Medicare might look different from the current Medicare population (even other boomers). Plans should also consider there is mixed evidence as to how much switching might occur among current enrollees this year—it will be important to actively monitor behavior in the period leading up to (and during) annual enrollment and develop a playbook of responses to deploy as they see how behavior is trending. 

The strategies MA plans use to both attract younger boomers and retain older ones should be viewed through a digital lens. While it’s too late to alter the products and benefits that will be available for the 2021 plan year, MA plans can consider revamping their communication, marketing, and enrollment processes. People who are enrolling for the first time, or who are seeking to switch plans, might want the ability to shop for coverage and enroll virtually. Any messaging should emphasize ability to access care from home and virtually. And while these strategies have changed quickly in the short term due to the health and economic crisis, many prospective and current members might want such features to be part of their coverage and benefits. Furthermore, MA plans should capitalize on the ability to drive behavior change through digital tools and build that into their clinical and care management strategies.

COVID-19 has had a profound effect on all populations, but in different ways. These differences will likely be important as new enrollees begin to engage with their plans and seek support outside of the traditional health care system. MA plans should review their messaging to help ensure it appeals to younger baby boomers and fosters loyalty among older beneficiaries.

Acknowledgement: Michael Cohen

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Abby Ruiz de Gamboa

Abby Ruiz de Gamboa

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Abby is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences & Health Care (LSHC) practice, serving health plan clients in transforming their businesses. With more than 15 years in client service, Abby’s work has included a wide spectrum of issues and she is able to help clients successfully navigate the complexities of today’s uncertain market. Abby’s deep understanding of the dynamics shaping the health care industry enable her to help clients understand and navigate the impacts of the changing environment. She focuses on helping payer clients define the people, process, and infrastructure needs to design technology-enabled business solutions across commercial and government businesses. Abby is very active in talent initiatives and market development efforts for Deloitte, including leading efforts to recruit, develop and retain talent from top MBA programs. Abby has a BA from Colgate University and MBA from the Darden School of Business. Since graduating from Darden in 2004, Abby has held a variety of leadership roles related to the school, including serving as president of the Washington, DC chapter and holding positions on the Alumni Board and Corporate Advisory Board. She also returns to Darden each year as a guest of John Colley and Jacquie Doyle in their General Managers Taking Action course.