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By LEIGH VAN DER STOEP - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2009
PHOTO Frozen embryos in an IVF lab.
An innovative fertility treatment programme that promises a baby or your money back brings new hope for would-be parents anxious about the soaring costs of repeated IVF cycles.
The new payment scheme from Fertility Associates, a group of leading fertility clinics, is an Australasian first and offers patients three cycles of in-vitro fertilisation for a fixed price and if the treatment is not successful patients receive a 70% refund.
Infertility affects about one in five New Zealand couples a statistic that has steadily crept up over the past three decades as women wait until later in life to start their families.
A single cycle of private in-vitro fertilisation can cost between $10,000 and $15,000, with around half the patients successfully conceiving.
Fertility Associates' new pricing system, called "Fertility Cover", offers a three-cycle package for eligible women under 39 at a fixed cost of between $24,000 and $30,000, depending on age.
That means if you still don't have a baby after three failed courses which could have cost you up to $45,000 under Fertility Cover you would instead be out of pocket only $7200-$9000.
Clinic medical director Andrew Murray says more than 80% of the clinics' patients have a baby after three cycles. Some couples qualify for up to two publicly funded IVF cycles but waiting lists can be long, with couples in some areas waiting more than 20 months, according to reports published last year. Fertility New Zealand has been lobbying for three publicly funded cycles.
Certain criteria, measured on a points system, need to be met for public funding. For example, couples with childlessness, severe infertility, or more than five years of failed attempts at conception will score higher and are more likely to receive public funding. About 2500 IVF treatments are carried out in New Zealand each year, publicly and privately.
Fertility Associates' new package eliminates the stress of not knowing the ultimate cost until treatments succeed, or worse, carrying the financial burden if treatment fails, says Murray.
"One of the biggest barriers for couples starting IVF when they know they need it is the risk associated with it... There's no absolute guarantee that they will get what they want most, which is a baby."
A 38-year-old IVF patient who asked not to be named told the Sunday Star-Times she and her husband would have considered taking up the package if it had been available when she started her first cycle. She is in the early stages of her first cycle, which has already cost $10,000. "You wonder how much more do you put in," she says.
"I think it's stressful enough going to IVF without having the added financial pressure. The one benefit with this product is you know how much you're going to invest upfront."
She says trying for a baby takes its toll on couples "physically and emotionally" and a package such as this would help them feel more like they're "in a partnership".
But Family Life International spokesman Brendan Malone is concerned that under the scheme babies become commodities people can buy with a money-back guarantee if they don't get what they want, rather than a gift of love.
As the money for the Fertility Cover package is paid upfront, couples who fall pregnant in their first round will effectively subsidise those who have the full three rounds. There is the option to switch to a pay-as-you-go plan for a partial refund.
Murray says the package will be available at his Wellington clinic from tomorrow and, based on its uptake and success, will extend to Auckland and Hamilton.
IVF is expensive because it includes a variety of high-cost processes such as freezing embryos and storing them.
The costs also include medications, blood tests, ultrasounds, thawed embryo replacement, early pregnancy monitoring and counselling.