Medicare cuts mean 1200 babies not conceived, says IVF professor

Family helped pay … Jen and Craig Glover with baby Lucas.
Family helped pay … Jen and Craig Glover with baby Lucas.

THE number of IVF treatments in Australia has fallen for the first time in nearly 30 years, after government cuts to Medicare payments.

A senior fertility specialist at IVF Australia, Michael Chapman, said the Medicare changes had been a false economy imposed on people who desperately wanted to have children.

The number of women using IVF fell 13 per cent in the year after the caps on IVF use were introduced, a report to be released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows.

''A change in government policy that cost something in the order of $50 million resulted in 1200 children not being conceived who would have been conceived,'' Professor Chapman said.

''I don't think that saving was justified, particularly because … within three years of that child having a job at the age of 21 they would probably pay off the cost of their IVF cycle.''

The president of the Fertility Society of Australia, Mark Bowman, said the Medicare changes had increased the cost of an IVF cycle from about $1500 to $3000.

But he believed there had been at least a partial recovery in the number of women using IVF since 2011 because couples did not see it as discretionary spending.

''Eventually, particularly women understand that fertility drops significantly as time goes on and they've just got to get on and do something if they don't get pregnant on their own,'' he said.

The report also showed a continuing improvement in the success of IVF treatments, with about 24 per cent of cycles resulting in a pregnancy and 18 per cent in a live delivery.

Of the 1056 babies live born in 2010, three-quarters were full-term singletons of normal birth weight. Improvements in technology had led to a reduction in multiple embryo transfers, Professor Bowman said.

''You can maintain success rates without doing inappropriate things, particularly with regard to the number of embryos, because in fact the highest chance of a healthy baby is by making that baby a singleton, not a twin,'' he said.

Craig Glover survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was a teenager, but only with the help of aggressive treatment.

In 2009, he and his wife tried to conceive a child naturally and discovered Craig had an extremely low sperm count, probably related to the treatment. The couple underwent IVF at Genea, formerly known as Sydney IVF, where it took several cycles and a miscarriage before they conceived Lucas, who is now almost 11 months old.

''The guilt side of things every time we had a failed IVF cycle, the mental strain on that side of things was absolutely horrible,'' Mr Glover, 27, said.

The Glovers needed family help to pay for the treatment and believed Medicare should offer more assistance. ''It's a huge cost and it's not something you do for fun. There should be a higher rebate from Medicare,'' Mrs Glover said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing said there had been a spike in people undergoing assisted reproductive technology in 2009 before Medicare payments were capped.

''In 2011-12 Medicare expenditure on [assisted reproductive technology] services was $231 million and ART service utilisation grew by 8 per cent from the previous financial year, which is a return to service levels prior to the capping and the ART item restructure in 2010,'' the spokeswoman said.

Australia had the most generous public subsidy of assisted reproductive technology in the world, with no restrictions on maternal age, marital status, social health issues such as weight and smoking, or the number of cycles that were payable under Medicare, the spokeswoman said.

This story Medicare cuts mean 1200 babies not conceived, says IVF professor first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.