Rising IVF costs may drive up Australian multiple birth rates and put women's health at risk, according to some clinical specialists.
Recent Medicare funding changes mean that, according to experts, each IVF cycle is now $1,500 more expensive. They claim this could drive IVF patients to ask for more embryos to be implanted per cycle to increase the likelihood of success.
IVF Australia Medical Director Peter Illingworth said: 'Ideally we would like to put one embryo in at a time because of those risks, but we are getting more pressure from patients to do two'.
'They're saying, we understand that it's more dangerous but we can't afford to do another cycle so we'll have two embryos put back and we'll deal with the consequences. If our baby ends up born at 32 weeks and has to have eight weeks in intensive care, well Medicare pays for that', said Gab Kovacs, International Medical Director at Monash IVF, Melbourne.
Other clinicians claim the increased charges are putting couples off having a second IVF baby.
Dr Anne Clark, Medical Director of Fertility First in Sydney, said: 'while some patients asked for more than a single-embryo transfer more opted out of having a second child through IVF'.
The Australian health minister capped the amount the Government pays to IVF patients from January 2010 after a review found specialists were exploiting the system by changing excessive fees. They claimed patients should be no worse off but, subsequently, clinics have further increased charges.
Multiple birth pregnancies carry various health risks, including an increased risk to the mother of pre-eclampsia, hypertension and diabetes compared with singletons. Health risks to the baby include premature birth, below-normal birth weight and even foetal death.
Although the Australian multiple birth rate has fallen in recent years, there is no official data released since this policy change.