Alberta pressed to pay for fertility treatment

An in-vitro fertilization protocol that could save Alberta's health-care system millions of dollars doesn't meet provincial requirements, the government says.

Could save millions, advocates say

A funding model for in-vitro fertilization that could save Alberta's health-care system millions of dollars doesn't meet provincial requirements, the government says.

Analysts predict Quebec will save $100 million over five years when it begins paying for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments next month, because the covered procedure will reduce the number of multiple births.

But Alberta says IVF doesn't meet the basic criteria for public funding.

"We've looked at these things a couple of years ago," said Howard May, spokesperson for Alberta Health and Wellness. "It needs to be determined that it's medically necessary."

It needs to be determined that it's medically necessary.

Dr. Joseph O'Keane, of the Regional Fertility Program, said IVF clinics usually increase a woman's chance of conception by implanting more than one fertilized embryo in the womb, which also increases the chance of multiple births.

Multiple births costly

About 30 per cent of IVF couples end up with twins, and infertility groups say multiple births place an unnecessary financial burden on the public health-care system.

"Very often these babies have to stay in the hospitals longer, their moms have to stay in the hospitals longer," said Beverly Hanck, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada, who has been fighting for more than a decade to get provincial governments to pay for IVF.

Hanck said Quebec will limit multiple births and save money by using a single embryo transfer protocol, which means only one fertilized embryo will be implanted in a recipient's womb for up to three cycles.

"Each and every treatment will involve transferring only one embryo back into the uterus of the woman," said Hanck, adding that there will be "some leeway on this protocol," and two or three embryos may be implanted at the physician's discretion.

"Alberta will save an absolute minimum of $15 million on their health-care system if they fund IVF treatment," Hanck said.

Infertility common

O'Keane said one in six Canadian couples struggle with infertility.

Robyn Hauck and her husband, who have been trying to have a baby for three years, paid $13,000 to have three fertilized embryos implanted in her womb.

Hauck said having a baby is important to her.

"I don't think I can put my finger on why it's so important," she said. "It's just something maternal."

O'Keane said IVF funding is warranted for reasons beyond the expected savings to the health-care system: "Economically it's justifiable, in that multiple pregnancies end up costing the system a lot more money, but I also think it is a basic human right to have children."

On Monday, the Manitoba government announced a tax credit that could reimburse prospective parents for about two-thirds of the cost of in-vitro fertilization. Manitoba's credit comes into effect Oct. 1.