IVF Felt Like We Were Buying a Baby
Why the unexpected financial and emotional costs of infertility affected our journey to have a family and ultimate IVF decision.
Looking back at our rocky road to biological parenthood, I can’t help but think about how we coped with the cost of infertility. Basically, in most states in the American health insurance system, infertility is an elective treatment. People are willing to go into debt to achieve their dream to achieve pregnancy. Even though we were fortunate not to have to do this, in many ways it felt like we were purchasing the chance to have a child, rather than treating a disease.
“We can select the most viable embryos and destroy the others, which means you’d have a 65 percent chance of becoming pregnant. That procedure isn’t covered by insurance,” the doctor said during my “free initial consultation” (that ”free” should have been an instant red flag).
I asked, “How much does that cost?” Without skipping a beat, she said, “$3000.” She clarified, that was $3000 per cycle. And there was no guarantee the first cycle would work.
“Of course, you can always not do this diagnostic procedure and it will be a normal 40 percent chance.” She then went on to say that we needed a $300 immunology test, which also wasn’t covered by insurance, “But that is a one time cost.”
This was daunting, but they had an amazing reputation with very high success rates, I told myself.
Later one of the three people I was supposed to help me walk through everything financial called me. She told me that the anesthesiologist they used was not covered by insurance.
How much was that? They didn’t know, but I would be billed in advance.
Of course, the end result, I reminded myself: a baby. Priceless.
This was all much much less than it would have been if I didn’t have insurance. I had insurance through my husband, whose work was in Illinois. Illinois is one of the few states that had a infertility mandate. This meant that insurance had to cover infertility treatments, including IVF. Furthermore, our insurance actually went above and beyond what was required by law.
I had already had doubts about the morality of doing IVF. For example, selecting and then destroying embryos that weren’t viable had been a major concern of mine. So I was wary about any sign that suggested this wasn’t the right choice.
And now they were now trying to up-sell me! I felt like I was at an used car dealership, trading in my used lady parts for a newer model on the road to a baby.
It really plays on your desire, maybe even feeds an obsession, to have someone say they can increase your chances 25 percent to have a baby — and maybe, in the long run, a better odds meant fewer rounds, and then less cost.
I couldn’t wrap my head around paying so much for treatment that was mandated by law to be covered by insurance.
I just didn’t feel comfortable with the way this clinic was trying to sell me on extras needed to increase my chances. It was already so clinical. The financial talk even before I saw a doctor really turned me off.
I decided to see what my HMO recommended. They gave me some options and I called a less flashy clinic that didn’t advertise their success rates on their website. In fact, I could find very little about this clinic online.
I talked to my insurance to see how much this clinic’s IVF treatment would cost. I was relieved when they told me it would only cost the co-payment for each visit — $20, plus $8 for each prescription. Without insurance, the cost could easily have been $20,000 for one cycle.
So, I was faced with choice. Go with a clinic who had a stellar reputation or the “cheap” one? Common wisdom was to go with the one with the highest success rates, but how could I pass up treatment that would be so affordable?
Why were finances even a determining factor?
I was really bothered by this financial dimension of healthcare. Wasn’t I going to be treated for a disease — which infertility certainly is? Or was I basically purchasing the chance to have a child?
It could be a very expensive, time-consuming, stressful lottery ticket. And, according to the “cheaper” clinic, my odds weren’t necessarily so great. Realistically, based on my diagnosis of endometriosis, scar tissue, the number of years of trying to conceive, and my age, they said my chances for each cycle were around 25 percent.
After the consultation with the clinic that was in my HMO network, I went to another doctor who had come highly recommended. I just wanted one more opinion, did I really need IVF?
He checked me out and found scar tissue was reforming — after I had surgery for endometriosis, one and a half years before. Scar tissue will re-form after any surgery, but it certainly didn’t bode well for less aggressive fertility treatments.
With one tube lost from an ectopic pregnancy years ago, my chances were already lowered. This doctor said that some months it could mean almost a zero chance if I didn’t ovulate on the side with the remaining tube.
At that point at age 39, the chances were even less, and, if there were any other health factors we weren’t aware of, I was basically at this point almost sterile. He said my only realistic (not just best) option for having a baby was IVF.
I liked that this doctor didn’t talk about money, didn’t talk about redoing a lot of tests I had already had done, and was optimistic about my chance of conceiving because his tests showed I had a better than average ovarian reserve (number of eggs) for even a 30 year old, much less my currently age of pushing 40.
The doctor said he could get me into the next “cycle” and begin treatment during the time of my husband’s summer vacation from teaching college. He then outlined what the protocol would be.
I would have 2 weeks during one cycle that involves intense treatment, during which I would have to go to the doctor’s office in St. Louis, which was 2 hours away from our home, 3–5 times a week. This doctor was well-known, well-reviewed, and even had been on a TLC reality show.
He presented everything in a respectful way, appearing to treat infertility as a disease using IVF, like treating an infection with antibiotics.
At the end of the consultation, I asked about insurance and he assured me that would be a slam dunk.
Okay, maybe this was it?
After a number of emails from the nurse outlining the protocol, I found out that he wasn’t covered by my insurance after all. Apparently he had been before, but his information wasn’t up to date. This meant he was pretty much out of our financial means.
Even so, they assured me that it could be a lot more expensive with other clinics who didn’t take insurance. I was told that if I wanted to proceed that the average price for one cycle was around $10,000, maybe less since about $3000 worth of drugs would be covered by my prescription plan (I talked to my small-town pharmacist who had never heard of these drugs but was delighted to find out they were covered.)
So, even though this was a relative bargain, this doctor was out of our price range. Which finally lead me back to the IVF doctor who was covered by insurance.
When I went back to the affordable IVF clinic, we did a few diagnostic tests. The doctor was very enthusiastic about my above average (she said unusually high) ovarian reserve. I was encouraged that she saw success, maybe a 25 percent chance of success, in our future and so we agreed to start treatment.
I hated that the main consideration, beyond the ethical ones and emotional ones I had worked to overcome, for resolving infertility was a matter of finances.
I ended up being happy that I decided to go with the clinic my insurance covered, despite the fact that it was “cheap.” It turned out they were great, professional and kind. They made it the least clinical experience possible.
I got pregnant, but miscarried, the first time around. We did a frozen embryo transfer using embryos from the first cycle and, as a result, I had a healthy and happy baby girl who is 5 years old now. We ended up beating the odds, and it was relatively a bargain.
I don’t look at my daughter as “cheap.” We paid in years of struggle to have her, through the stressful experience of various fertility treatments before we tried IVF. We paid in the seemingly never-ending series of disappointments we had while trying.
For us, the financial side of it wasn’t an insurmountable part of that struggle because we had good insurance. But with many other couples, the financial burden is a huge consideration — and sometimes a barrier — in trying to conceive.
I truly believe healthy pregnancies shouldn’t have to be purchased.
I think infertility should be treated as a disease and all insurance should cover it as such. No one should lose the hope of having a child just because it’s too expensive.
I look at my daughter now and all those years of struggle have faded away into the past. But I can’t help but feel for couples who are struggling with the same issue today. The cost of infertility is already so high, they don’t need the added financial burden.
Melissa Miles McCarter is a Mommy who writes on the side about family, mental health, pop culture, and more. Make sure you don’t miss her articles and get exclusive content by subscribing to her newsletter.
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