Cash-Strapped IVF Moms
The number of multiple births is going to rise high as cash-strapped Australian women ask physicians to transfer multiple embryos during IVF treatment in an effort to reduce costs. Experts say that cuts to Australia's Medicare rebate have raised the cost of IVF to $1500 a cycle. Patient costs have risen too high and some couples are delaying or abandoning their attempts at conception.
Meantime, physicians state they are being pressured by their patients to transfer more embryos during the procedure so they might maximize their chances of conception during a single cycle of IVF. They press for multiple embryo transfers despite doctors' warnings that multiple births carry five times the risk for death, premature delivery, and many other complications. Couples are so desperate to have children they're willing to take that chance.
''They're saying, we understand that it's more dangerous but we can't afford to do another cycle so we'll have two embryos put back and we'll deal with the consequences. If our [prematurely born] baby … has to have eight weeks in intensive care, well Medicare pays for that,'' says Gab Kovacs, who serves as international medical director at Melbourne's Monash IVF.
But Dr. Anne Clark, the medical director of Sidney's Fertility First in Hurstville, says that while a few patients have requested multiple embryo transfers, more have simply given up the idea of having a child by IVF.
Peter Illingworth, the medical director of IVF Australia as well as the president of the Fertility Society says this trend is bound to have an effect on the health system. ''There can be long-term health complications for twins born as a result of IVF,'' he said. ''Ideally, we would like to put one embryo in at a time because of those risks but we are getting more pressure from patients to do two.''
In January of 2010, the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, placed a cap on the Medicare safety net payments. These payments cover 80% of what's left of doctor's fees after Medicare rebates. But a review showed that specialists were overcharging their patients. Roxon felt that patients could receive the same care if specialists kept their prices at $6000 per cycle, which the government deems to be the typical cost for such a procedure. However, doctors claim that the average cycle can cost as much as $7500 or even higher, should patients require special treatment.
Since the cap went into effect, Sandra Dill, who represents an infertility support group called Access Australia, says she has received 30-40 calls and emails every week from patients who are distraught about this increased financial burden.