Metro Morning·Audio

Ontario doctors to decide who receives publicly-funded IVF treatments

Some fertility doctors are trying to figure out the fairest method possible to spend $50 million worth of provincial government funding set aside for in-vitro fertilizations (IVF).

Clinics given discretion to use best judgment on who receives government assistance

An Ontario doctor says this government initiative should help about 5,000 families in the province with fertility issues. (Radio-Canada)

Some fertility doctors are trying to figure out the fairest method possible to spend $50 million worth of provincial government funding set aside for in-vitro fertilizations (IVF). 

"Our biggest concern is just the number of people who might want to access treatment," Dr. Tom Hannam, founder of the Hannam Fertility Centre, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday. "You can put rules in place but they are inevitably somewhat arbitrary."

In October, the Ontario government announced it was setting aside $50 million for IVF treatments. On Monday, the province said it was offering the fertility treatments at 50 publicly-funded clinics.

It's very generous, which is why we suspect it's going to be very popular, as well.- Dr. Tom Hannam, fertility centre founder

The decisions about how to allocate the funds are being left to doctors in clinics who must decide which families receive the government-sponsored assistance.

The province is estimating one in six Ontario couples are affected by infertility. With these funds coming on top of $20 million already available as part of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), more and more people are expected to request the treatment. 

"It's very generous, which is why we suspect it's going to be very popular, as well," Hannam said.

Only one rule must be followed: no woman 43 years of age or older is allowed to participate in the program.

The $50 million figure was decided upon based on the number of people who have sought help privately each year. Typically, this amount should be able to aid with roughly 5,000 cycles, the doctor said, adding clinics have been advised to use their "best clinical judgment" when making calls on who gets treatment. 

Taunya Johnston, left, says her family spent about $30,000 on fertility treatments before successfully having Cecelia, right. (Taunya Johnston)
Taunya Johnston, a fertility advocate and mother in Cambridge, Ont., also spoke to Metro Morning on Monday and said her family has spent about $30,000 on fertility treatment.

At her clinic, publicly funded IVFs were being distributed "based on medical needs" with doctors looking for the "ideal time for the patient to receive the treatment."

But not all clinics are handing out these treatments the same way because Hannam said there are more people who want the care than we have space for.

"If there were five times more people than we could accommodate, that would be a five-year wait list," the doctor explained. 

A lottery is being chosen by some doctors, a system the Hannam called "brutal" yet "objectively fair." At his clinic, staff have said no to the lottery system and to first come, first serve.

"With fertility, we should be taking the people who are most likely to succeed," Hannam said. "Triage is routinely reserved for people where things would be the most successful."

Dr. Tom Hannam says the new program will not spiral out of control due to high costs because it's capped at $50 million annually. (CBC)
Several eggs and embryos can be made available during just one treatment cycle, if successful.

In Quebec, a similar program that was meant to save money for the province ended up becoming "impossibly expensive," Hannam noted. That's brought cost concerns to the table in Ontario, a province already saddled with mounting debt. 

"It's not going to be an endless cost, it's not going to spiral out of control, it's going to be exactly what it is every year," the doctor insisted. 

Johnston was eventually successful after a "long road" and "lots of obstacles." She gave birth to a baby girl named Cecelia and told CBC News the process was time-consuming. With the new government program, she's been selected to have another child, except this one won't cost her tens of thousands of dollars because it is funded by the province.

"It was an unexpected gift and we're filled with gratitude," the mother said of the new initiative, admitting "there could be growing pains."

But overall, Johnston sees the program as a good thing for the people of the Ontario.

"If we look at it from where we are today, 5,000 families are eligible for funding. Three months ago, none of those families were eligible."


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