Infertile couples in Quebec will now be able to access government-funded in vitro fertilization treatments (IVF), a first in North America.

Couples who have not been able to conceive naturally will be eligible for three free rounds of treatment as of Aug. 5, said Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc.

The province becomes the first jurisdiction on the continent to offer subsidized IVF treatments, which are a costly and last-ditch option for couples with problems conceiving.

Quebec's government hopes to see the number of IVF pregnancies double in coming years as a result of the policy, Bolduc said at a news conference on Tuesday at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital. 

An average of 3,500 IVF pregnancies are recorded in the province every year.

Treatments covered by the Quebec government include:

  • Egg harvesting.
  • In vitro fertilization.
  • Pre-implant genetic testing.
  • Embryo transfer.
  • Sperm sample collection.

A single IVF treatment in a private clinic can cost up to $15,000.

The Quebec fertility program will cost an estimated $35 million per year, with expenses rising to about $63 million in four years.

Services will be offered across the province, split evenly between public and private clinics. Specialized treatments will be limited to major university hospitals.

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There is no age limit for treatment, although the program will show priority preference for women near the end of their childbearing years, Bolduc said. It's not clear how the province will handle any waiting lists.

About 10,000 Quebec couples are considered infertile.

Doctor federations in Quebec are opposed to the program, saying there are more pressing needs within the health-care system.