The $100,000 fertility question no one wants to talk about
Can you put a price on a future? That’s the question parents grappling with IVF have to ask themselves before, during and after each expensive round of treatment
It’s a question that can be impossible to answer.
Alice Almeida, founder of IVF support platform The Amber Network, considers leaving this unanswered her biggest mistake when she underwent treatment.
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“We saw a marriage counsellor because we heard that it’s really rough on your marriage - which is an understatement - but we weren’t told about the financial side,” she told Yahoo Finance.
“We were in a position at one point where we’d had multiple failed [embryo] transfers, and we’d spent $20,000-$25,000.
“My husband and I were recently married and we were looking at buying something, and we had to make a decision that the idea of owning our own home would be pushed back.”
Almeida and her partner believe they spent around $60,000 on the treatment itself and at least another $40,000 on a fertility coach, acupuncture and other alternative treatments.
“If somebody says to you, ‘You need to drink this papaya juice, which costs $20 for 200mL,’ you do it because you’re so desperate to have a baby,” she said.
“So, over the five years, we spent a significant amount of money on the complementary therapies.
“That’s the danger of it all. When you go through IVF, there’s a lot of people that will save up for the medical side, and they’re not aware of the alternative side, and that’s where the cost really blows out.”
Today, Almeida has one child conceived with IVF and fell pregnant naturally with another earlier this year, just months after ending treatment in August 2020.
Her marriage has recovered, as has her mental health, but it’s something she doesn’t want other couples to go through.
“The financial advice is really important because it needs to put you and your partner on the same page,” she said.
“Seeing a financial adviser is something that I really wish we had done. I don’t know if we would have done anything differently [in terms of treatment], but I would have understood the finances.
“And when my husband tried to raise it with me a couple of times, I probably would have been a bit more receptive to it.”
The conversations couples need to have
Louise Lakomy is the director of financial services firm Crystal Wealth Partners, and in her career she’s worked with dozens of families attempting IVF.
One of the most common things she sees is couples with different timelines and budgets for treatment, and a mutual lack of awareness about the other’s priorities and values.
“Often when I speak to clients, they don’t know that they’re going to go down the IVF path,” Lakomy said.
“But if they’re young, married and don’t have children yet, I have the conversation: ‘Do you want to have children? Would you consider going down the IVF path?’”
The problem she sees is couples who are simply too optimistic about their future finances and fertility, and it’s why she believes the conversations need to happen early so they have the time to save.
She said almost every couple will have one partner who is more desperate for a child than the other.
Without communication and planning, this can lead to an outcome that is both expensive and emotionally devastating.
“The first question we ask is, ‘Where are you going to source the funds for it?’,” Lakomy said.
“We’re always asking them how they would like to fund it, and if they have spoken about it, and how much they would be prepared to outlay.
“It’s important to understand the point where the affordability [issue] becomes something that they can’t overcome.”
The sooner couples start talking about this, the better, she added. It means more time to save, prepare and undergo treatment.
The best outcome is to have enough time for couples to siphon off a certain amount of their wage for a year or several months.
For couples with a shorter fertility window, they could look at drawing against their mortgage, taking out a loan or investigating grants.
“They just need to be very careful [with their choices], because some of them come with fees and fees and fees,” Lakomy said.
How much does IVF cost?
Costs vary significantly depending on whether a couple has private health insurance, the services required and their own individual health.
Canstar analysis found the average cost of one IVF cycle was more than $8,000, with couples around $3,380 out of pocket.
Ovulation induction involves women self-administering hormones and can be around $700 per cycle out of pocket, while a frozen embryo transfer costs, on average, $3,600. Of that, $2,201 is out of pocket.
Then there’s the cost of freezing embryos: that’s around $915 for six months of storage and $450 for freezing sperm for the same period of time.
Some IVF costs are covered by Medicare, and in some states like NSW, residents can claim $500 rebates for pre-IVF fertility testing. To access this, couples need to have fertility issues as confirmed by a specialist.
All up, Canstar assesses 59 per cent of IVF costs can be covered by Medicare.
It’s not cheap, and it led thousands of Australians to tap into their super to fund IVF, with tax figures showing 34,000 savers raided their super for medical treatment in 2020.
This is not a move Lakomy endorses, and one she is surprised funds even permit.
More support needed for families
Almeida believes there needs to be more financial support for families attempting IVF, noting that the waitlist for fertility treatment in the public sector can be months long.
Through The Amber Network, she recently spoke to a couple that had to stop treatment because they simply had nothing left to sell.
Funding support is one part of the solution, she believes, but so too is starting the conversation earlier.
“It’s really important to go in with a plan, because there are so many times where you need to make a financial decision,” Almeida said.
“But I found it physically impossible to separate the emotion from the logic and the reality of it.
“You need someone with a level head and who is in neutral territory to help you make that call.”
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