Alberta Health Services says it will offer some reimbursement for clients at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital who will have to transfer to private clinics for services like in-vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination.
The hospital is discontinuing these non-insured services through the Lois Hole Hospital for Women at the end of February. Clients will have to transfer storage of frozen eggs, embryos and sperm and resume fertility treatments at pricier private clinics.
AHS is covering the transfer costs and the price difference at private clinics for eligible patients until Sept. 30. It will also cover the difference in cost for one cycle of treatment at a private clinic until Sept. 30 for clients currently undergoing treatment. Those who have paid for services at the clinic and did not complete them will receive a refund. Travel costs will not be covered.
Janie Clink, the executive director for women's health at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, says the hospital has already transitioned 500 patients to private clinics. Reimbursements could be between $200 to $1,500 she said, and will be issued within 10 to 45 days after a treatment is completed.
"We certainly recognize and understand that patients and the public are under some significant stress related to having to move clinics," Clink said, adding a transition line has been set up for client questions.
Clink says there has been some misunderstanding with when services will be discontinued. Clients have "plenty of time" to decide what to do with their frozen eggs or other specimens, she said.
'It's costing people a lot of stress'
Paula Weiss conceived her son at the publicly-run fertility centre in November 2015. She was considering conceiving her second child there in November 2017, when news broke that the clinic would be discontinuing its services. She felt she had no choice but to transfer to a private clinic.
Weiss, a spokeswoman for the group United Infertility Edmonton, says AHS is making a "small step in the right direction" in offering partial reimbursements to clients who have moved to private clinics. But she worries it won't help everyone — she estimates there are at least 3,500 patients impacted, and the cost of reimbursing them all for the price difference will be substantial.
"We don't really understand ... the reason for the closure and why the government thinks it's ok to just throw money at us, because we really want the service to be in Edmonton," Weiss said.
'We don't really understand ... the reason for the closure and why the government thinks it's ok to just throw money at us, because we really want the service to be in Edmonton.' - Paula Weiss, client
"I think it's costing people a lot of stress, and it will cost people additional money."
Weiss said she's concerned about a lack of communication between AHS and clients of the fertility centre and how it will be able to accommodate all patients.
She says she knows of one woman who now has to go to Victoria for fertility treatment because her complex health issues mean she can no longer receive care in Alberta due to the discontinuation of services at the Royal Alex.
Weiss is concerned about costs for patients who have to travel to Calgary and stay there for IVF treatment. She knows of other patients who have received multiple letters from AHS all saying the same thing.
"The lack of care and consideration they've had for this situation, the lack of planning, it's appalling and it's disappointing. There's been no proper communication, it's been inadequate," Weiss said.
"I think we expect better from AHS."