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Low cost IVF might not actually cost less - economically or emotionally

Genea blog low cost ivfWe’re sure you’ve seen the ads. Low cost, no cost and cartoons spruiking simple IVF.

But the reality is likely to be far different to what’s being promoted.

Speaking at a conference for fertility specialists, Genea Medical Director Associate Professor Mark Bowman expressed concern that approaches that seem cheaper and less invasive to patients might actually be costing the healthcare system – and Australian taxpayers – more and causing a great emotional and physical impact to patients.

Assoc. Professor Mark Bowman told the international gathering that the ‘low cost’ models of IVF recently introduced in Australia did not really represent low cost to society and bore little resemblance to true low cost IVF methods that were utilized in developing countries.

“An approach to ‘more affordable’ IVF in this country will potentially come at a higher cost per baby to Medicare and therefore the outcomes from these approaches need to be properly evaluated and compared to usual IVF treatment,” Assoc. Professor Bowman said.

As he explained, in IVF treatment, women usually receive a prudent amount of fertility medication to bring on a number of eggs (perhaps 10) and, after fertilization with her partner’s sperm, one of the resulting embryos is immediately transferred and any other embryos frozen.

“If this first stimulation cycle doesn’t succeed with a pregnancy, the patient can come back and have a frozen embryo thawed and transferred – a process that is very simple, just as successful as fresh transfer and relatively inexpensive to both the patient and to Medicare,” Assoc. Professor Bowman said.

“Even better, if the initial cycle does lead to success, the woman can return some time later to have a second child using a frozen embryo that was derived from the initial stimulation cycle.”

Some Australian low cost models don’t give patients this chance of more than one baby from one stimulated cycle of IVF. Instead, these low cost clinics put patients on a much lower dose of ovarian stimulation, which leads to only a small number of eggs and maybe only one embryo.

The patient has an immediate embryo transfer and the chance of a pregnancy but this treatment approach does not lead to extra embryos being frozen.

“If the patient does not conceive, she will then need another stimulation cycle involving far more cost to Medicare (compared to a frozen cycle) and a more invasive treatment cycle for the woman,” Associate Professor Bowman said.

Repeated stimulation cycles, at a very reduced out of pocket cost, with no embryo freezing might sound attractive to patients but it risks adding significant cost to Australian society for IVF treatment and could have extra health risks to women.

“To have two children, the cost of undertaking two separate stimulation cycles for two children – as would happen in the ‘low cost’ model – would cost Medicare twice as much as having one stimulation cycle for the first baby and then having a remaining frozen embryo for a second baby,” Assoc. Prof Mark Bowman said.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is a Genea Group blog and as such information may not be relevant for all clinics. We advise that you consult clinics directly for further information.