Couples borrowing to pay for IVF

Fri, Nov 12, 2010, 00:00

COUPLES WHO experience difficulty having children are being forced to borrow money to avail of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment due to the lack of financial support from the State for the therapy.

Dr Mary Wingfield, director of the Merrion Fertility Clinic in Dublin, said yesterday it wasn’t acceptable anymore that the Government failed to help couples.

“Most other European countries have state funding now. All the Scandinavian countries have it, so has France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.”

An IVF cycle at the clinic costs up to €5,000. She said people who were unemployed, and even many working couples, could not afford this. There was also an anomaly whereby those who could afford the €5,000 could get a refund on the additional €3,000 they might require for drugs associated with the treatment, she said. Couples can also claim back tax at a rate of 20 per cent on their initial outlay.

The Merrion clinic does offer treatment to some medical card holders at 20 per cent of the cost normally paid by private patients, while the Hari (Human Assisted Reproduction Ireland) unit at the Rotunda Hospital treats some medical card holders for free. But Dr Wingfield said this means the clinics are being made “to play God” deciding which medical card holders get treatment.

They were put in this difficult position because the State doesn’t support the treatment. Neither does the VHI, the State’s biggest private health insurer.

“I suppose there is a perception that IVF treatment is a luxury and not really necessary. We need to change that perception. [Fertility problems are] defined by the WHO as a disease and it’s a definite medical problem that has a very good medical treatment,” Dr Wingfield said.

Around one in six couples have fertility problems and the Merrion clinic sees about 500 couples a year, half of whom go on to try IVF. Less than 10 per cent of those who try it are subsidised medical card patients.

Of those who try IVF at the clinic about one in three end up with a baby, though success rates are higher among younger couples. Alan Martin (37) and Paula Campbell (32) from Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, have been together for eight years and now realise their only hope of having children is through IVF. Both work but, with a large mortgage, getting the money together for the treatment will be a struggle. Their parents will help and they plan to borrow the balance from the credit union.

“What bugs me is there is no consideration whatever for people who have no chance of getting the money together for IVF. . . There isn’t even means testing,” Mr Martin said.

Dr Wingfield pointed out that Ireland was now among only three European countries – the others being Poland and Romania – with no legislation around IVF.

“We have been hearing from the Department of Health that legislation is on the way but we are tired hearing that. We really need it now,” she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it hopes to finalise policy proposals to regulate the area early next year.