For families struggling with infertility, IVF access poses more difficulty: experts

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For families struggling with infertility, IVF access poses more difficulty: experts
WATCH ABOVE: British Columbia announced it will fund in vitro fertilization but experts say many Canadians struggle to get accessible and affordable IVF even with such supports. Global's Nathaniel Dove reports – Feb 23, 2024

Experts are welcoming the news B.C. will soon start funding in vitro fertilization (IVF), saying it can help people struggling to grow their family with accessing care that can be prohibitively expensive.

“Unfortunately, many people do require IVF to start and to grow their families,” Dr. Kimberly Liu, head of the University of Toronto’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility division told Global News. “And we know that the cost of IVF can be prohibitive and make it inaccessible for patients.”

One in six Canadians struggle with infertility, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society (CFAS).

IVF is an intensive and complex process that helps people struggling with fertility to become pregnant.

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Medical professionals give a women medication to stimulate between 12 and 15 eggs at once. Once the eggs mature, Liu said, health-care workers retrieve them with the patient sedated, inserting a needle into the ovaries.

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Eggs are then placed into “a very specialized embryology lab” with environmental controls. The eggs are fertilized with a sperm sample, grown for between three to seven days, and then injected back into the woman’s uterus, Liu said.

The CFAS says nearly 110,000 egg retrievals took place in Canada between 2013 and 2019.

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Liu put the cost of one round between $10,000 and $20,000.

She said medication can be an additional $5,000-$8,000 on top of that, with genetic testing, if required, doubling that again.

B.C. announced it will fully fund one round of IVF treatments starting in April 2025, including medication. Ontario and Quebec also fund one round of IVF though Ontario doesn’t cover fertility drugs, genetic testing or egg, sperm and/or embryo storage. Quebec covers more.

But all three provinces only cover one cycle.

Liu said IVF is successful only about 30 per cent of the time “which means that there’s a number of patients that are not going to be successful with one cycle of IVF or acquire multiple treatments,” she said.

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Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador all offer tax credits, but with different conditions.

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New Brunswick will cover up to half of eligible incurred costs, up to $5,000, but only for people diagnosed with fertility problems.

P.E.I. provides between $5,000 and $10,000, based on family income for IVF and medication per year for up to three different years. It does not cover egg and sperm storage or travel expenses.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut offer no coverage.

There are no fertility clinics in Yukon, Northwest Territories or Nunavut, though some governments do reimburse healthcare travel expenses.

Laine Halpern Zisman, patient experience lead at Kin, a fertility consultancy, said travel expenses and missing work can make IVF treatments even more expensive, regardless of whether you’re travelling to a different province.

And she said IVF usually requires many appointments.

Halpern Zisman told Global News different clinics offer different services and that not all will offer funded IVF, or a full range of IVF services like egg/sperm/embryo storage.

And she said the number of clinics in an area will impact another key factor – wait times.

Liu said waitlists in Ontario range from six to 18 months “and sometimes even longer.”

“A lot of people can’t wait years in order to get a funded cycle in order to access care,” Halpern Zisman said. “There is actually a little bit of a ticking clock for a lot of patients,” she said.

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Liu said a woman’s chance of getting pregnant decreases as she gets older.

Both Liu and Halpern Zisman said governments should work to make IVF more accessible and affordable, covering things like travel expenses, medication and more than one cycle.

“We really have to put pressure on creating an equitable system that allows the funding to be accessed by everyone, with everyone who was a resident in that province and not making distinctions based on family type,” Halpern Zisman said, speaking from Toronto.

IVF and fertility treatments help more people than those struggling with fertility, Liu said, explaining that it can help cancer patients who are undergoing treatment that could affect their ability to have children.

Halpern Zisman said it can help LGBTQ2+ people conceive.

“We don’t know what someone’s story is,” she said, “but we know that this can provide them with a path to build their families in really beautiful and amazing ways.”

— with files from Global News reporters Simon Little and Saba Aziz

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