14 March 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 549
Yves Bolduc, the Minister for Health in Quebec, Canada, has announced plans to introduce free fertility treatment through the extension of Medicare coverage. This move will fulfil Premier Jean Charest's 2008 campaign promise.
The programme is expected to cost Quebec $32 million in its first year of implementation, rising to $80 million by 2014. However, the new system is expected to make savings in other areas. Under the current private-sector treatments, cost effectiveness means that more than one embryo are usually implanted at a time. This often leads to multiple births and increases the risk of premature deliveries. Under the new Medicare system, single embryo transfer will be preferred and the number of premature births is anticipated to decrease from 30 per cent to under 10 per cent for assisted pregnancies. Bolduc emphasised that this decline is expected to save the medical system a significant amount.
Dr Hananel Holzer of the McGill University Reproductive Centre expressed his approval for the plans to provide free treatment. The Centre currently performs 1,000 cycles of embryo implantation a year at the cost of $10,000 per cycle. With the introduction of free fertility treatment that number is now expected to rise to 3,000 to 4,000 cycles by 2014. Holzer commented that 'it's the most frustrating thing to hear from a couple: 'We can't have child, we want to have a child, but we can't afford it''. The announcement made on Thursday moved towards combating this problem.
While such an expansion of medicare coverage has generally been welcomed, the feeling amongst independent experts is that they have not yet been given the opportunity to digest the proposals. Abby Lippman, an expert on reproductive genetics from McGill University said that the press release has not really provided more information and that she had not yet seen the proposed regulations to govern the programme. Nine pages of legal text were distributed just before Bolduc began the news conference giving little time for analysis and reflection. There will now be a 45-day window for independent experts to comment. As Lippman said, 'the devil is in the details - and we don't have a single detail.'
However, while comments are being formulated by the fertility community, the overall response has been that of excitement. Beverly Hanck, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada in Montreal stated: 'This is wonderful news'.