How to help millennials figure out health plans? Ask them

Conventional wisdom — and actuary tables — say that when a lot of younger people buy health insurance, insurance companies are better off.

This assumes, of course, that younger people are healthier and less likely to use services.

But how can these younger and supposedly healthier low-utilizers avoid costly visits when they are trying to use a health plan they don’t understand?

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is attempting to figure that out.

“Everyone knows it is critical to have health care coverage, but many young adults don’t know the options available to them, and we want to change that,” Eduardo Lara, Horizon BCBSNJ vice president of marketing and product development, said.

“Rather than asking an office full of insurance executives how to adapt to the evolving needs of our future customers — the millennials — we decided to go to the source and ask New Jersey’s college students to help us make health care more accessible and understandable to their generation.

“And we might just incorporate their ideas into the way we work.”

Between greater use of telemedicine and increased access to wellness help through apps, providers and insurers are still determining which strategy will work best.

So far, it is known that few want to spend the time to learn the complexities of the health care system, and consume information in smaller bites.

This was evident at the first-ever Horizon Health Care Transformation Challenge, which focused on two veins of services: technology and marketing.

The projects varied in complexity, and implementation of many were questioned by the judges. There were four judges per category, including Horizon executives, officials from health providers and a former health care journalist.

Many focused on the cost benefits of their projects, both to the health care system overall, as well as to younger patients who may not be aware of the most cost-effective way to obtain care.

“Navigating health care can be confusing and complex and oftentimes younger adults are paying the price,” Lara said. “Without the information, understanding and support they need, our future members won’t get the care they need.

“Horizon wants to tackle this issue now, and that’s why we’re asking New Jersey’s undergrads to brainstorm and give us ideas we can use to help them become more aware of their health care options and take a more active role in their health.”

A total of 16 college teams applied for the competition, which had prizes ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 for the top three in each category.

The winners:


  1. (Stevens Institute of Technology) — Machine-learning tool to predict diagnosis for four key diseases ($5,000)
  2. GoodVibe Medical (New Jersey Institute of Technology) — Vibration therapy tool to strengthen bones ($2,500)
  3. theHorizon (Rutgers University) — Tool that provides small, regular tidbits of health care knowledge to keep millennials engaged and informed ($1,000)


  1. PR Pirates (Seton Hall University) — YouTube series to increase millennial knowledge of health care ($5,000)
  2. Exquisite (Rutgers School of Pharmacy) — Interactive tool to help millennials choose the best plan and primary care doctor ($2,500)
  3. 123 Health (Seton Hall) — Website to access content, share information via weekly notifications and collect rewards to use towards healthy restaurants or fitness classes ($1,000)