Why funding in vitro fertilization treatments could save Alberta Health money

CALGARY – At a southwest Calgary park,  mom Hejdi Feick proudly watched her two children play Friday afternoon. Her son, Jack, came into the world on Christmas Eve 2006; little sister, Brooke, arrived two years later on Boxing Day.

“As luck would have it, we have two bookends to Christmas,” said Feick with a smile. “Best gifts we’ve ever had!”

Those precious gifts came after years of hope and heartbreak. Feick went through three failed and expensive cycles of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“In the end it took us a little over four years and four rounds of in vitro…to have our son and our daughter was our fifth round.”

Feick said her family was fortunate enough to be able to pay for the five cycles of IVF. At a cost of $10 to $12,000 per cycle, Feick said she knows not every Alberta family is so lucky. It’s why she now volunteers with Generations of Hope, an Alberta advocacy group that offers financial assistance to families struggling with fertility.

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“I see the applications that come in from couples that don’t have the financial means, and you really start to question, ‘is it your financial situation that should decide whether or not you can have a family or be a parent?’”

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On Thursday, the Ontario government announced plans to begin publicly funding one cycle of  IVF for any couple experiencing infertility, provided the woman was under 43 years of age.   Quebec is the only other Canadian provide to publicly fund IVF, although New Brunswick offers families a one-time grant of up to $5,000 to help cover the costs associated with infertility treatments. Manitoba offers tax credits.

Alberta does not offer public funding for IVF treatments but during an interview Thursday, Premier Rachel Notley said her government was considering such a program.

“I’ve asked my officials to look at that issue,” said Premier Notley.

“Of course they’re going to have to look at it within the context of our need to be prudent in our budget, including our health care budget.”

In 2014, a report commissioned by the former PC government found that funding and regulating in vitro fertilization would save $179 million in health care and societal costs over 18 years.  According to fertility specialist Dr. Calvin Greene, jurisdictions that don’t publicly fund IVF often see more multiple births.

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“If you put yourself in the place of a couple that has infertility and you’re faced with a $10 to $12,000 bill and you can only do it one time, and you’ve sold one of your cars and you’ve taken a loan from your parents, you feel a lot of pressure to succeed in that one cycle,” said Greene.

Multiple births can be risky for both mothers and babies, and are associated with higher health care costs. The University of Alberta report found that if an IVF program was not funded in Alberta, the health system would incur $316 million over 18 years, but if IVF treatments were funded and regulated, those costs would fall to $219 million.  There would also be $82 million saved in societal costs, includling lost work hours and caregiver expenses.

In an e-mailed statement to Global News, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said she knows the subject is very important to Albertans who are trying to start a family.

“Staff from the minister’s office have been meeting with stakeholders to better understand their positions on in vitro fertilization, or IVF. We will keep options in mind as resources become available in the future.”

An infographic on in vitro fertilization funding in Alberta created by Generations of Hope. Generations of Hope

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