Still waiting for IVF funding in Ontario

by DaniGirl on February 25, 2013 · 8 comments

in Infertility

This is the last in a series of posts sponsored by Conceivable Dreams.

When Kathleen Wynne became Ontario’s new premier earlier this month, I was full of hope that she would revisit and revive an issue that has been stagnating for four long years in Ontario. Back in 2009, an expert panel recommended that the province should cover the cost of up to three rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments for women under the age of 42. Last week, I was deeply disappointed to hear that Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews has said the province has no intention of implementing these recommendations.

I had the opportunity recently to participate in a set of media stories for web, radio and TV about IVF. At first I said yes, as you know that promoting funding for IVF has been dear to my heart for years. Before production got underway, though, I backed out. I changed my mind for two key reasons. The biggest reason is that my beautiful IVF baby will be 11 years old next month, and maybe this story is no longer mine to tell, at least not quite so publicly. Second, though, is that I had a sense that the story would be focusing more on the “women putting careers first, waiting too long to have babies” theme.

It’s frustrating to me that the issue of IVF funding gets tangled up with this image of type-A career women who put off marriage and children until their late 30s or 40s, and then turn to IVF when they realize they’re long past their fertility’s best-before date. I’m sure this happens, and of course I have sympathy for ANYONE who wants a child and finds that they are unable to conceive.

We were 28 and 30 years old when we were diagnosed as infertile, and to my great dismay at the time, the infertility was not on my side of the equation. I really think it would have been easier emotionally if it were. We were told we had less than 3% chance of conceiving on our own, and that likely would have been true had we been 24 or 14 years old. This is not an issue about age, this is an issue about inequality, and about a government that can’t seem to grasp that there may be savings instead of costs in funding IVF.

In Ontario, IVF is funded for three attempts when infertility caused by both of a woman’s fallopian tubes being fully blocked. This is a relatively rare diagnosis. If infertility is caused by any other disease, or if it is male factor, or if it is unexplained, the patient pays IVF out of pocket. That’s the first problem with the way the system currently works – the capriousness of having your infertility diagnosis being caused by an eligible or ineligible medical condition.

The second problem is that less invasive fertility treatments like the prescription of fertility drugs or intrauterine insemination ARE covered by the province – but those treatments are both less effective and more likely to result in multiple pregnancies, which in turn add additional costs and stresses to the health care system. IVF allows a higher rate of control of the number of conceptions, and therefore births, that occur. With IUI and other fertility drugs, multiple rates are much higher and completely out of the clinic’s control — millions of frisky sperm seek out up to half a dozen or more fertile eggs. With IVF, the conception occurs in the labratory instead of the uterus, and the doctors place one or two embryos into the uterus, hoping they will implant and grow. It’s the difference between using a calligraphy pen or a bucket of paint to dot your i, if I can make up an analogy. One report says funding IVF and reducing the incidence of multiple births could save the province $650M over ten years.

When I first wrote about provincial funding for IVF four years ago, I proposed what I thought then and what I still think now would be a very reasonable compromise: fund unsuccessful treatment cycles.

Including two IUIs, a cycle of IVF with ICSI, four years of frozen embryo storage, and the costs to thaw and transfer Frostie, we easily spent more than $10,000 to overcome our infertility. I think you’ll agree that my lovely boy is worth every penny times a thousand. We’re lucky that we never had to face the unimaginable agony of an unsuccessful round of IVF treatments compounded by the idea of spending all that money for naught — just try to imagine spending everything you have, financially and emotionally, and coming away empty-handed.

Funding IVF is not just about an emotional salve, though. If an emotional plea doesn’t move Ontario’s new premier, I’m hoping the science and the economics of the matter will convince her. Funding IVF makes sense, and it will save dollars, too.

One in six Ontario families suffer from some form of infertility. That’s why I’m happy to work with the advocacy group Conceivable Dreams, who sponsored this blog post. For more information, you can visit the Conceivable Dreams website, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: I am a valued member of the Conceivable Dreams blog team, and I have been compensated for this blog post. However, the opinions expressed on this blog are always my own.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sasha February 25, 2013 at 10:27 am

As someone who both struggled with fertility issues, and dances the jig of the “socially progressive fiscal conservative”, IVF funding is something I’ve had throroughly mixed-up feelings about. I find it VERY interesting, though, that funding could actually save money in the long run. You’d think that would make it a no-brainer, wouldn’t it?

PS. LOVE the paint analogy 🙂

2 Allison February 25, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Curious – did the TV story go the angle you thought it would, focused on women holding off on having children? I also find it painful to hear this view perpetuated by media. I know way too many people in so many different situations that have struggled through infertility. We were, like you, 28 and 30 when we had almost the same diagnosis as you and your husband! We need to hear all of the stories.

3 Jill February 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

A subject very dear to my heart. I was 25 and my husband 31 when we were diagnosed… the diagnosis was almost like a relief to me – just to know we could move on with our lives. And I know it isn’t for every family, but (even though my husband and I had talked about adoption in our ‘dating days’), that was the moment I knew we would adopt.

Now with two girls from China, I feel so blessed, I don’t have a moments regret.

4 Jill February 25, 2013 at 10:06 pm

PS – I forgot to say, I really applaud you for turning it down because this is now your sons story. So true.

5 DaniGirl February 26, 2013 at 7:26 am

Allison, they did a set of stories and I didn’t catch all of them. While they tried to cover a few angles to the story – let’s just say I’m happy I listened to my heart.

There are so many ways that families come together, aren’t there? I think, though, that once you’ve walked a mile through the badlands of infertility, it changes you (a little bit or a lot) forever. Even when you come out on the other side with the beautiful family you thought might once have been out of your reach, you never quite forget.

6 paula schuck February 27, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Thanks so much for another insightful post. They did several stories and a couple took a different angle but one of the first ones that set the stage was the piece that framed this issue as one that is entirely caused by women waiting too long to have babies. No mention of Male factor or any other causes. The economist involved was also very disappointing – all she said repeatedly was – it’s not a biological right to conceive. frustrating. We, however, understand there was also some more misinformation in the pieces. The first quote from Deb Matthews was an old one. A little bit of lazy reporting, but this has people engaged in debate and that’s often a good thing.

We are very glad you told your story with us, and for us, this last six months. Thank you.

7 AnonResearcher June 19, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I’m chiming in rather late here, but the reason the Expert Panel’s recommendations weren’t followed are because their conclusion on cost-savings are flawed, and the data they use to come to them is unsourced and unrealistic.

8 INSIDEgal December 2, 2014 at 10:09 am

The goal with IUI cycles is not to produce half dozen or more eggs; its maybe two or three and through cycle monitoring, you would see how many potential eggs are in the running and choose to continue with the cycle or not; people need to take responsibility for the number of multiple pregnancies too not just the health care practitioners. The dangerous part is taking medications without monitoring, you never know how many eggs are fertilizable. Your blog also mentioned that fertility medications are covered; this is not true; that depends on a persons individual benefits plan. No way should the government pay for those medications if they won’t pay for anti-HIV meds or anti rejection drugs for patients who without taking those medications would die. But yes, the government needs to make it plan clear as to what is going on. People are postponing their fertility treatments in the hopes there will be funding. But guess what, those people that have bilaterally blocked tubes and have “insured” IVF treatment, this is misinterpreted. Those people still pay for medications and still pay for all the IVF lab fees such as ICSI and are discounted only $2,000 for the blood work and ultrasounds they will receive through monitoring. So these people delaying their treatments are decreasing their chances of success as ladies, our eggs age with us, and time is not on our side! DO NOT WAIT FOR FUNDING, it may take several years (in Quebec it took two years once funding was approved for the commencement of funded IVF cycles).

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