When Millennials turned 40 in 2021, CNBC Make It was launched Medieval millennialsA series that examines how the oldest members of this generation grew up against the backdrop of the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic, student loans, stagnating wages and the rising cost of living.
Every morning, Kristin Bennett starts her day by swallowing around 14 different nutritional supplements and vitamins designed to help her keep the worst symptoms of her illness at bay.
Bennett has recurrent multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disorder that she has dealt with for about 20 years after she was diagnosed in 2001. She turned 40 just last month.
Health conditions like Bennett’s can take a toll, both financially and emotionally. And unfortunately, by the time the oldest millennia turns 40, many will face chronic health conditions – more so than previous generations, according to some recent research.
According to a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of CNBC Make It of over 4,000 adults in the United States, of whom approximately 830 were, 44% of older millennials born between 1981 and 1988 were diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition between 33 and 40 Years.
There’s no question that some emerging evidence shows that a lot of millennials are less healthy than predicted, says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
“High blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are a major contributor,” says Benjamin, adding that the obesity epidemic may be a major contributor to the rise in rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and even certain cancers. Benjamin also says that studies show that millennials are far less likely to smoke, which makes smoking-related diseases less common.
Among the older millennia surveyed by CNBC Make It, the three most common illnesses are migraine headaches, major depression, and asthma. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure round off the top 5.
The prevalence of these diseases affects not only the health and longevity of millennials, but also their bank accounts. Studies show that people with at least one chronic illness spend twice as much on health care as people without medical problems. People with two chronic health problems occurring at the same time spend five times as much.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people under 65 with cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease spend more than $ 1,500 on expenses annually. The average health insurer with no chronic illness pays just $ 778 a year out of pocket.
Over the course of a lifetime, these costs can add up – especially if a patient is diagnosed at a younger age.
Not only out of pocket but medical expenses could reduce annual income for millennials with chronic health conditions by as much as $ 4,500 per person per year, according to a 2019 report by Moody’s Analytics, which analyzed data from Blue Cross Blue Shield Health.
“If these trends continue, the end result will be higher health care costs,” says Benjamin. “They are going to swap the baby boomer generation for a generation with even higher healthcare costs just because of normal inflation and the fact that these chronic diseases are present.”
Kristin Bennett has been dealing with MS for about 20 years.
Source: Kristin Bennett
To keep her symptoms at bay, Bennett takes a dozen or so nutritional supplements each morning, as well as other vitamins throughout the day. In total, she spends about $ 400 a month on more than 20 different vitamins, as well as powdered supplements that she adds to drinks and smoothies. Bennett also sees a naturopathic doctor about once a month, a massage therapist when she can, and physical therapy when necessary. These types of services can typically range from $ 75 to $ 150 per session.
Despite best efforts, there were flares in 2018 that persisted due to the coronavirus pandemic, including falls, double vision, and even problems walking and standing for long periods of time. As an avid gardener, one of her more severe falls ended with banging her head on a wooden stake after tripping in front of her home in Clinton, Washington.
But Bennett’s health care costs could be much higher. Eight years after she was diagnosed, she was on medication that generally costs between $ 5,000 and $ 50,000 per year for patients without insurance.
When she lost her job in 2009, Bennett spent most of her unemployment benefit on COBRA insurance to make sure she was covered for both her medication and her pregnancy. But Bennett, now a mother of three, couldn’t keep up with the costs and eventually stopped taking prescription drugs in favor of a cheaper route to alternative medicine.
The diagnosis of MS gave Bennett the attitude that everything can change completely at any point in time. “I don’t really know what the future will bring,” she says. “I still hope that I can walk well again, but I also know that this cannot happen and one day I might need a wheelchair.”
Declining health is only part of the puzzle
While older millennials are more likely to have chronic illnesses, it may not be solely due to deterioration in health. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, also known as Obamacare, improved access to health care providers for many Americans. This was especially important for younger Americans, who had the option to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they were 26.
This helped more college students and graduates afford and seek medical care when they needed it. “It is true that we have improved access to care,” says Benjamin. But “as you improve access to care, you see more people and you identify more health problems.”
While this may increase the rate of illness, it can be a good thing, says Benjamin. Detecting health problems early on leads to better long-term results, including a longer lifespan.
For Brady Dixon, doctors were able to detect his type 2 diabetes early on when he was only 29 years old.
Brady Dixon, who lives in Oklahoma City, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2015.
Source: Brady Dixon
Doctors diagnosed Dixon, now 35, with diabetes after a routine health check-up that found critically high blood sugar levels in 2015. Although doctors were able to assess his condition before any real complications occurred, diabetes is one of the most expensive chronic diseases to treat in the US today. Those diagnosed with diabetes have an average of $ 16,750 in annual medical expenses, of which $ 9,600 is directly related to diabetes. This is based on research by the American Diabetes Association in 2018.
For Oklahoma Dixon, the main expense was his medication and food. After the first drug prescribed Dixon made him sick for hours, he switched to another one that he tolerated better but more expensive. According to GoodRx, the average monthly supply of the drug Trulicity costs $ 985 without insurance and $ 48 with insurance.
Dixon makes about $ 58,000 a year in IT and spends about $ 200 more a month on groceries than he did before he was diagnosed. However, budgeting for specialty groceries and healthier take-away meals can be challenging, especially with jobs that don’t always pay off well and $ 8,000 student loans that have yet to pay off.
“I learned that eating under the radar is a cost to diabetes,” says Dixon. “Yes, if you cook everything at home, it’s not that expensive. But the staples of cheap, simple food – frozen pizza and ramen – are both death to a diabetic.”
More diagnoses could come after the pandemic is lifted
As older millennials get older, their habits, history, and even world events will continue to affect their health. The pandemic is likely to lead to new shifts in health trends and potentially an influx of diagnoses over the next year, Benjamin says.
While Covid-19 may not have been as fatal to younger Americans, including older millennials, many patients who contract the disease experience lingering symptoms months after they recover. In fact, studies show that between 50% and 80% of recovered patients experience persistent side effects for up to three months after their first positive test.
Beyond Covid, the pandemic has resulted in a dramatic decrease in Americans seeing the doctor, Benjamin says. About 70% of physicians surveyed by the American Medical Association said they have made fewer appointments, both face-to-face and virtual, since the crisis began. According to CDC data, emergency rooms were down 25% in December 2020 and January 2021 compared to the previous year.
“Because we’ve been confiscated in our homes for a year, people haven’t got the screenings and medical care they need,” says Benjamin. “When people go back to the doctor, we’ll find cancers that should have been detected earlier. We’ll find people who haven’t had their vaccinations. We’ll find the diabetes that was undiagnosed.” because they haven’t been to the doctor. “
Increased diagnoses also mean that more Americans can pay higher health costs in the short and long term if the health conditions are chronic.
Such was the case with Dixon, whose drug and food costs escalated during the pandemic. He was fired from his job in IT in March 2020 and was unemployed for six months last year. COBRA would have cost about $ 2,000 a month so he didn’t sign up. Instead, he stopped taking his medication and just tried to monitor his sugar levels and diet.
Last August, Dixon was finally able to secure an IT role as a contractor, which became a full-time position in November. When he finally went to see a doctor covered by his new health insurance earlier this year, his sugar levels were so high that his risk of kidney and eye damage had increased.
His doctor put him back on Trulicity and added another drug to the routine. Fortunately, his new job has adequate health insurance. Between these and the drug rebate programs, Dixon spends $ 40 a month out of pocket on his medication.
Despite being back on track with his career and health, Dixon, who is still single, can’t help but be frustrated that he’s no further in his life. “I expected to own my own home between 25 and 30 and be married to children,” he says.
“There are two things that I think really messed up the American Dream for me. One is my student loans and the other is health problems.”
CNBC Make It will publish more stories about student loan, employment, wealth, diversity, and health in the Middle Aged Millennials series. If you are an older millennial (ages 33 to 40), sHare your story with us for a chance to be featured in a future episode.