Special Needs Initiative helps remove health care barriers for Illinois twins

When Drew and Christy Kasper welcomed their twins, Lucy and Leo, in April of last year, the delivery brought a rollercoaster of emotions — from excitement to uncertainty.

Lucy was born with down syndrome and clubfoot — a birth defect of the foot and ankle. At 9 days old, she also had surgery on her intestines and was in the hospital for months.


“We were very overwhelmed in the beginning,” Drew said. “I remember not knowing really, what the next step was or what to even reach out to.”

The couple faced many struggles trying to get the care they needed and find the right resources that could help. Drew said it was a constant runaround when looking for answers — something that added a lot of stress to an already highly stressful time.

Having to call providers, government-run resources and dealing with billing issues for Lucy’s medical treatments had taken away time the couple needed to focus on adjusting as a family of five.

Lucy Kasper Lucy Kasper

That’s when they met Ericka Kranking — a family advisor with the UnitedHealthcare Special Needs Initiative. Advisors, like Ericka, help families with complex needs navigate the health care system. For the Kaspers, this meant helping them resolve billing issues, locate therapy programs for the twins and secure special leg braces for Lucy.

“The Special Needs Initiative has worked well for us. Primarily, the ease of the quick contact,” Drew said. “Our advisor, Ericka, knows our story and can help offer resources, suggestions or other steps to take when we ask a question.”

“I’ve been very excited when I have been able to reach out to Drew and Christy to give them positive news on something they may have struggled with,” Ericka said. “This is what I am here for, to take some of the stress and struggle away from them so they don’t have to spend precious time dealing with insurance — instead, they can spend it together with their family.”

UnitedHealthcare launched the Special Needs Initiative four years ago. The inspiration came after Tom Kelly, UnitedHealth Group vice president of marketing and innovation, saw the struggles facing these families firsthand, as a parent to a son with special needs.  

Tom Kelly and family Tom Kelly and family

“We were constantly coming into situations where the health system just didn't work for us,” Tom said. “It made me wonder what other families in our similar situation were doing and whether they were having the same kind of experiences. At the time, I worked on an innovation team at United, was able to get the support to examine other families like ours and found out that, in fact, that was exactly what was happening.”

Tom’s findings led to a conversation with Chris Carlson, UnitedHealthcare senior vice president of complex health solutions, who helped bring the program to life. Since its inception, the Special Needs Initiative has helped more than 100,000 families.

“Our successes usually come in the form of one family at a time,” Chris said. “What we really count as our successes is when families start to send our advisors pictures of the child, a thank you note or maybe a recognition that they started kindergarten that day and they wouldn't have been able to, unless our team had intervened.”

Drew and Christy say the support they’ve received through SNI has made all the difference, reducing stress and providing more time to focus on what’s really important.

“I love seeing my kids laugh, have a good time and interact with each other,” Christy said. “When I see them smile at each other and play and giggle, it's the best feeling in the world.”