Ontario's newly re-appointed health minister Deb Matthews says she has no plans for routine funding of in vitro fertilization treatments, though some medical experts have said funding the treatment could save the province in the long run.
As more women try to have children later in life, when fertility levels drop, alternative ways to conceive like in vitro fertilization have become more popular.
But while in vitro fertilization — performed in cases of blocked fallopian tubes, advanced reproductive age, low sperm counts and unexplained infertility — has a high success rate, it is the most expensive of fertility treatments and out of reach for many.
Only Quebec's health care plan funds the treatment.
In 2007 an expert panel appointed by the Ontario Liberal government recommended that OHIP cover fertility treatments.
Among the panel's reasons was that the province could save hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term health care expenses.
But the provincial government balked at implementing the panel's recommendation, sparking a large demonstration outside of Queens Park in Toronto.
Ontario considered covering fertility treatment
Doctor Arthur Leader of the Ottawa Fertility Clinic was on that panel and said the cost issue arises from couples gambling on success in the current user-pay scenario.
"Because many treatments, whether they be artificial insemination ... or in vitro fertilization, when you're spending a third of your disposable income you don't want to do it very often," said Leader. "So given the choice, people will put in two embryos and will take the chance with multiples."
Multiple pregnancies can often result in risky preterm births and other complications, including physical or mental disabilities, said Leader, which can in turn burden an already overwhelmed health care system.
After being sworn in again as Health Minister, Matthews reiterated the issue was not a priority for the government.
"Quebec has gone ahead with funding in vitro fertilization, so that's something we're following very closely," said Matthews. "Whether this is something we can do right now is another question."
The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, citing rising costs of reproduction technology, is opposed to publicly funding the treatment.
"Health care is already the largest expenditure in the province," said Candice Malcolm, the federation's Ontario spokesperson. "I think it's important to have a national or an Ontario-wide discussion over what we think should be covered by universal health care and what might be better covered in a private insurance system."
Time for a public discussion
Some women aren't waiting for the Ontario government to act and have moved to Quebec to take advantage of its public funding of in vitro.
Ottawa resident Natasha Derouchie said she thinks the Ontario government should recognize infertility as a real health issue.
"Infertility is an illness like anything else," she said. "And the fact that it's not recognized or talked about or taken care of is crazy."
Derouchie said she was able to afford in vitro fertilization only after winning the treatments for free as part of a radio contest promotion.
She and her husband were one of five couples who won the contest. Today Derouchie said she is enjoying every minute of being a mother to three-month-old Knox.
"Our treatment was around $15,000 to be able to have him so there's no way we would've been able to afford (it)," Derouchie said. "So if we wouldn't have won the radio station contest, as crazy as that sounds, he wouldn't be here."