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Innovation isn’t just for Millennials: Understanding the next wave of Medicare enrollees

My first job out of college was not your average college graduate’s job, especially in the age of the Millennial takeover and the proliferation of technology startups. My first job was not at a startup, and didn’t have “open concept” workspaces or free coffee at each turn of the hallway. My first job was at a non-profit organization with 50 employees that served older adults in 12 counties of northeast Georgia. The simplest way to describe it to friends and family unfamiliar with this line of work was, “I work at a senior center.”

And, this was true. The Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) serves as the Senior Center for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, the town that surrounds the University of Georgia. But, as organizations like Deloitte and other leading private sector firms have begun to innovate to prepare for the Millennial workforce, ACCA too has begun to respond to an up-and-coming population: The Baby Boomer.

The Athens Clarke County Senior Center is now the Center for Active Living (CAL), which includes programming for residents age 50 and older, such as yoga classes, smartphone classes, and caregiver support groups. Several years ago, ACCA installed a community garden on their campus, where people from across the community not only come to enjoy its produce, but also to participate in a coordinated monthly garden club and meet with volunteers from the UGArden, a community of students centered on creating a sustainable food system. ACCA has begun to understand that new generations can bring about the need for innovation – no matter the industry you’re in.

Approximately 26 million Baby Boomers will age into Medicare through 2030. And, while some may think, “When you’ve met one Baby Boomer, you’ve met them all,” new research from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions indicates that this may not be the case. In fact, many researchers describe two groups within the Baby Boomer generation: “leading edge” and “trailing edge.” Trailing-edge Boomers are the next wave of Medicare enrollees, while leading-edge Boomers have mostly aged into the program already.

Trailing-edge Boomers appear to differ from their older counterparts in several ways. For one, many are retiring to new areas of the country, staying in their homes longer as they turn away from traditional retirement communities, and facing dire financial circumstances as they look to retire. Moreover, consumer surveys suggest that many approach health care and coverage differently than leading-edge Boomers. Finally, many already use health technology more than their older counterparts, and many are interested in new technologies to support aging in the home (e.g., telemedicine, remote-patient monitoring (RPM)).

Many Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans have been targeting, attracting, and engaging leading-edge Boomers since the first individuals turned 65. But, the next wave appears different and will likely require different strategies, tactics, and capabilities to win with this important customer segment.

So, a key question is, like the ACCA has begun to innovate its programing and services to attract younger Boomers and new partners, how can health plans innovate to attract and retain future Medicare enrollees?

For one, partnering with senior services and other community-based organizations might help health plans strengthen their offerings to address social determinants of health. As members age, they typically develop additional needs beyond traditional health care, some of which are associated with social and behavioral issues. Many Industry stakeholders are beginning to recognize that preventing or mitigating certain health conditions may require addressing nutrition, housing, transportation, and other social needs. Health plans might consider collaborating with new partners to offer such services to their aging members.

The propensity of trailing-edge Boomers to remain in their homes as they age—whether out of desire or necessity—will likely mean that more people will be seeking care solutions in their home, too. Health plans should consider structuring benefits to cover services that help people age in their homes (e.g., care managers and transition coaches, personal care services, long-term care support services).

Finally, technology will play a large part in keeping the trailing-edge Boomer population engaged. Many have higher expectations for easier ways to pay bills, enroll in programs, and check on wellness progress, so health plans may need to reallocate current technology investments and funnel them toward self-service technologies. Advanced remote patient monitoring solutions that provide digestible feedback immediately and frequently could be solutions that trailing-edge Boomers begin to appreciate if their chronic conditions increase in number and/or severity. In addition, expanded telemedicine capabilities could help health care providers treat a broader spectrum of conditions.

As one of ACCA’s mottos goes: “Aging, everybody’s doing it.” The same can apply to innovation in health care – everybody’s trying to do it. When it comes to capturing and retaining the wave of younger Boomers aging into Medicare, health plans may need to realize that many companies are going to be innovating services and strategies. How will your organization’s strategies stand out from the rest of the pack?


Author bio

Claire is a health policy manager for the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in Washington, DC. In her role, she provides in-depth analysis of regulatory and legislative updates to inform Deloitte’s account teams as well as external clients on key trends in health policy. Before joining Deloitte, Claire worked in the non-profit sector, providing development and outreach experience to organizations in the aging services field from the local to national level. She has a B.S., B.A., and Graduate Certificate in Gerontology from The University of Georgia and a Masters of Public Health in Health Policy from The George Washington University.