Special Needs Initiative marks 5 years of helping families with complex health care

“I am Henry's advocate,” Kim Brennan said about her youngest child and only son. “And it's a journey that I will always be on.”

Kim and her husband Brian, from Bronxville, New York, started to realize Henry would need additional support when he was about 6 months old.

“Henry was very delayed, and he wasn't reaching his milestones,” Kim said. “It was determined that he’s missing some connective tissue between the lobes of his brain.”

Henry’s condition makes things like speech and fine motor skills more challenging. Kim says nothing is automatic and that he has to practice things over and over to make them stick. It makes occupational and physical therapies very important.

“Thank goodness we have insurance, and they pay for a lot of it,” said Kim, who has UnitedHealthcare. “But it's all out of pocket until I get reimbursed.”

Simplifying the journey

For more than five years, Kim has found extra support with those claims through the UnitedHealthcare Special Needs Initiative (SNI) — a program that gives families of children with special needs a personal advisor to help them navigate the health system.

“It's just a game changer,” Kim said. “You have somebody at the insurance company who is there through the journey and helps. It’s just wonderful.”

About 1 in 5 children in the U.S. has a special health care need. Support for them is often more complex and can create paperwork that requires extra time and energy — something these parents often lack.

The creation of SNI in 2017 aimed to help ease that process. That’s when UnitedHealthcare started using data algorithms to help identify families, like Kim’s, who may benefit from one-on-one assistance. Since its launch, more than 150,000 families have been helped.

“Our goal is to help support these families and ease their worry,” said Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual. “We want to support them by providing a point person to help with navigating all the complexities of the health insurance system — everything from claims to benefits to finding the right providers.”

Beyond reducing stress, data shows that extra support has improved family experiences and reduced their out-of-pocket costs.

A member of the team

Before SNI support became available, Kim said she spent a lot of time tracking claims and retelling Henry’s story when reimbursements stalled.

“You'd have to backtrack and explain the whole situation. It was frustrating and took a lot of time,” she said. “But now, having Jodie on my team, I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Jodie Naze has been the Brennan family’s SNI advisor since the program began. Kim calls Jodie her “gatekeeper” of the health care system and all the invoices that need to be tracked.

Jodie and Kim stay in regular contact through the SNI Family Link secure message service that’s available 24/7. Their focus is mainly on Henry’s care, but Jodie is there for the whole family.

“It's not just one person who's impacted,” Jodie said. “So, with the SNI support, we're happy to help everyone in the family — whatever their need.”

Kim said she’s just so grateful to have Jodie in her life and Henry’s.

“I am only willing to have people around who celebrate Henry — and I put Jodie in that group,” she said. “She feels like a family member or somebody who's on our team.”

“That's just the most wonderful compliment I think anyone can get,” Jodie said, smiling with tears in her eyes. “That’s what we are here for.”

If you are a UnitedHealthcare member who is the parent of a child with special needs, you can call the number on their member ID card and ask about the Special Needs Initiative to get more information.

Go deeper: Read more about the results from five years of SNI support.