Nova Scotia

Fertility treatment just got more affordable in Nova Scotia, but wait-times remain long

Patients and clinicians are applauding the province's new tax rebate for fertility treatment and surrogacy, but another big challenge remains: long wait-times.

Patients, clinicians applaud the new tax rebate for IVF, other treatments

Mark and Danielle Patterson are shown with twin daughters Audrey and Sophie. (Submitted by Danielle Patterson)

When Danielle Patterson and her husband started seeking fertility treatment in 2016, they quickly learned it would be a long, expensive journey.

But they forged ahead anyway.

"We just really wanted to have children," she said.

Like about 1,000 other people each year, Patterson sought an appointment at Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies, the only fertility clinic in the province. 

She ended up travelling to Prague because she found a unique form of fertility care that appealed to her, and a faster process. It took three rounds of fertility treatments over three years and $50,000 before she gave birth to her twin daughters.

Patterson ended up travelling to Prague because she found a unique form of fertility care that appealed to her. (Submitted by Danielle Patterson)

Patterson said it was worth every penny, but it wasn't easy, and she's glad Nova Scotians starting fertility care now can get some of their money back through a tax rebate.

"It was a difficult and long road for us and not one that many people who are going through fertility care are unfamiliar with. It is very lonely and isolating and frustrating and expensive.

"[This] announcement from the province is just an incredible step in the right direction," she said.

The rebate is for 40 per cent of the cost for fertility treatment and medical expenses related to surrogacy, up to $8,000 annually. It will be enshrined in law through an amendment to the Income Tax Act that is making its way through the legislature now.

More details about the rebate's criteria will be set in regulations, which are expected to be completed this summer.

Greater capacity needed 

Patterson praised the PC government for following through on a campaign promise to provide a rebate on fertility services, but she said there's still work to be done.

"We're not 100 per cent there yet because there's extremely long wait-times," she said.

A lab worker at a clinic in California inspects human eggs frozen with liquid nitrogen. Nova Scotia has just one fertility clinic, located in Halifax. (Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Patterson waited eight months for her first appointment at Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies six years ago. That remains typical today.

Chief operating officer Julie Keizer said patients wait between six months to a year to get in for a consultation, and sometimes several more months for their next appointment. 

The main limiting factor, she said, is that the clinic has only three reproductive endocrinologists.

"What we really need is a fourth REI, or subspecialist in infertility, and that would increase our capacity and reduce our wait-times, and hopefully handle any increased demand as a result of this tax credit," Keizer said.

She and the clinic's medical director, Dr. Renda Bouzayen, lauded the tax credit as a tool for improving access to fertility care, but they said shortening wait-times is another important issue that needs to be addressed.

AART uses these cryo tanks to freeze patients' eggs. (Submitted by Julie Keizer)

The success rate of IVF drops dramatically with age, and AART will not offer it to women over age 44, Bouzayen said. 

"[Infertility] is maybe not an acute appendicitis, but we really need to be able to offer an efficient treatment and give the option to the couple," Bouzayen said.

No government plans to increase capacity

Keizer said AART has asked the province to help hire another clinician.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness said the province does not give money to private clinics, which AART is.

However, Keizer said while the province does not fund private clinics, AART is still reliant on the province to bring another reproductive endocrinologist into the province.

AART's physicians are part of the Dalhousie Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and work within the IWK, too.

She said that AART is a non-profit clinic and would not benefit financially from increased capacity.

The provincial spokesperson said there are no plans to increase capacity for fertility care, but the province "will continue to monitor."

AART's embryology lab. The clinic treats about 1,000 new patients each year. (Submitted by Julie Keizer)

NDP calls for more

NDP health critic Susan Leblanc said the province should be thinking bigger. The Dartmouth North MLA said the tax rebate is a good step, but said it leaves out a lot of people.

"I would never say that this is a bad piece of news, however … it's a tax credit, that means you have to have the money up front."

She said she'd like to see the government cover fertility treatments and related drugs through public health insurance and provincial pharmacare, and introduce public clinics.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

With files from Michael Gorman

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