01/15/2014 04:42 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

How to Sell Health Insurance to Millenials

The latest report on Obamacare enrollment indicates that a relatively small number of young adults under 35 have signed up for health coverage. This isn't surprising at all. However, it's not for the reasons that are often cited. Those of us who fall into this generation are generally not lazy. We also don't think we're invincible, as many assert. Instead, there has been a sizeable communication gap between the government and young adults regarding health care options.

Lack of Millennial participation in the healthcare exchange is a problem for a lot of reasons. Having a disproportionate number of unhealthy, pre-Medicare adults who have high medical costs means that insurance rates could skyrocket on these plans. This would likely make the plans unaffordable for many Americans and undermine most of the intended benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Current enrollment figures indicate that young adults ages 18 to 34 account for 24 percent of enrollees. This misses the mark by a long shot. A Kaiser Family Foundation report that was just released projects that this figure needs to be 40 percent in order for the system to be sustainable.

As a result, the White House has announced a full court press campaign to boost enrollment figures for this key group. Here are a few ideas, some practical and some idealistic, for promoting exchange enrollment to Millennial/Gen Y young adults:

  • Translate. Terms such as "deductible, copayment, pre-existing condition, HSA, HMO, PPO" are confusing, particularly for people buying insurance for the first time. Make it simple, perhaps more like buying car insurance, because this is something most of us have already done. We're not ignorant, but we also don't want to spend an afternoon, or worse several days as some have experienced, choosing a health plan.
  • Communicate. The government funding for health care "navigators" is an admirable attempt to provide potential enrollees with 'real people' they can meet with in person and get individualized information about health care options. However, to increase enrollment of young adults, the navigators need to meet us where we are (at Starbucks, grad school, etc.) instead of community health agencies.
  • Relate. Marketing for the exchanges must be both relevant and relatable. The ads I've seen that promote enrollment are woefully ineffective. They either don't attempt to connect with young adults or are trying so hard to win us over that they're a joke.
  • Personalize. We are a generation that becomes motivated to act based on the experiences of people we know and care about. Tell us stories of people like us who didn't buy insurance and ended up in a financial crisis as well as a health care catastrophe. Even better, use social media to connect us to friends who have had these experiences. A couple of years ago a 29-year-old friend of a friend was severely injured in a car accident and couldn't receive the care he needed because he didn't have health insurance. For me, hearing about his horrific experience erased the possibility of skimping on health coverage to save money.
  • Connect. Once the ads become relevant, they should be channeled full force to the communications platforms that we're using most, i.e. Facebook. Daytime TV isn't going to cut it. Social media offers the advantage of allowing the government to be seen as a helpful resource instead of a maligned bureaucracy that fumbled the exchange rollout.
  • Monetize. The subsidies available to low and modest income individuals are largely unknown to Millennials. We're a generation that has been hit hard by the recession, and any financial benefits to signing up would be viewed favorably.
  • Incentivize. Capitalize on our hyperconnectivity and indebtedness by offering incentives for referring other young adults who sign up.

The good news is that we have until March 31st to hit the necessary targets for young adult enrollment (unless, of course, this Obamacare deadline is erased or extended just as several others have been). The stakes are high, but we're a generation that can make this happen.