Federal candidates must pressure provinces for fertility treatment funding, B.C. advocates say

·3 min read
An estimated one in six couples struggles with infertility, which is classified as a disease. Yet few provinces cover the cost of treatment.  (iStock - image credit)
An estimated one in six couples struggles with infertility, which is classified as a disease. Yet few provinces cover the cost of treatment. (iStock - image credit)

Metro Vancouver resident Maegen Teunisson, 37, has always wanted to be a mom.

But after a year of trying to conceive, she and her husband found out that problems with his sperm would keep that from happening naturally.

When the couple looked into in-vitro fertilization (IVF), they discovered they didn't have the means to cover the estimated $18,000 costs of the procedure and accompanying medications.

"It's devastating," Teunisson said, crying. "I feel like a large part of the reason I was put onto this planet was to become a mother. And the fact that because my wallet isn't big enough that can't happen for me, it's been tough to navigate."

Maegan Teunissen
Maegan Teunissen

A single round of IVF can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000, not including medications that can cost thousands of dollars. People often try more than once before they're successful.

In Canada an estimated one in six couples struggles with infertility, which the World Health organization classifies as a disease. But in Canada, only four provinces cover various costs of fertility treatment like IVF.

Ontario provides funding to cover the first round of IVF. Manitoba offers a tax credit and New Brunswick has a grant to help cover partial costs. Quebec restored public funding for one round of IVF for couples struggling to conceive after cutting the program in 2015.

In B.C., the Medical Services Plan covers diagnostic procedures but stops short of actual treatment.

CBC News sent repeated requests to B.C.'s Ministry of Health for comment before publication.

A day after initial publication, the ministry sent a statement saying its focus is to ensure B.C. residents have "access to effective, medically necessary procedures, while keeping health care costs sustainable."

'We are just left in the dust'

Vancouver-based fertility coach Laura Spencer wants to change that. Spencer works with B.C. couples trying to access fertility treatment.

She has been calling on the federal election candidates to put pressure on provinces like B.C. to include fertility treatment as part of the country's universal health care system.

"Knowing that there are wonderful programs ... where IVF is funded publicly, and we are just left in the dust here in B.C. — it's just unfair," Spencer said.

Caitlin Dunne, co-director of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Burnaby, says infertility has long lingered in the shadows because so many couples are ashamed to talk about it.

"As a result, I don't think that infertility has received the attention that it deserves in terms of public recognition and support for the people who are struggling with the disease," Dunne said.

Submitted by Dr. Thomas Hannam
Submitted by Dr. Thomas Hannam

Cost is most often cited as the top impediment for couples seeking treatment, Dunne says, adding that every day she hears from patients who struggle with the expenses or forgo any procedures because of them.

Dunne says some critics say fertility treatment shouldn't be covered by public health care because it's a luxury or a result of choices people have made.

"That's simply not the case," she said. "There are so many medical diagnoses that are completely out of the couple's control."

'Very worthy of attention'

Dunne says infertility is classified as a disease even when factors like age are considered, and by far IVF is recognized as the most successful treatment.

She points out that the lack of funding extends to fertility preservation like sperm and egg freezing for those undergoing treatment for diseases like cancer.

"That's, again, a type of treatment that, in my view, is very worthy of attention from the provincial government," she said.

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