IVF for the rich and infertility for the rest
One in six people in this country will encounter problems conceiving and need medical assistance to have a child.
It’s a startling figure and it probably explains why most of us know someone who has struggled to start or add to a family.
In the past there was little that could be done for these couples, but thankfully science has provided options that many only dreamed of previously. Sadly it seems the Government is about to take those options away from many Australians.
If proposed changes to the Extended Medicare Safety Net go through, Australia may become a place where deserving couples are priced out of parenthood.
The problem began when it was alleged some IVF doctors were rorting Medicare by charging exorbitant fees.
The Government backgrounded journalists in the Press Gallery that some doctors were taking up to $4 million dollars a year in Medicare money for IVF services and therefore must be overcharging.
What the Government failed to realise was that these doctors who were supposed to be rorting were not pocketing the money, but were in fact running entire teams of medical staff with the taxpayer funds they were accessing.
They weren’t buying yachts – they were running staff who helped create babies.
Undeterred, the Government is pressing ahead with plans to significantly cap the amount IVF doctors can claim from Medicare. Given the claims of rorting seem grossly overblown, these increases will no doubt be passed onto people desperate to become parents.
According to reproductive advocates Access Australia, this could drive the out of pocket expenses for each IVF cycle from around $1000 to $3000.
And bear in mind the average couple will need three cycles to conceive.
This, according to Access Australia, will make parenthood unaffordable to many.
In June I held a press conference with Dr Ian McBain, Head of Reproductive Services at Melbourne’s Royal Womens’ Hospital and Queensland mum Peta Clacherty, along with her two year old daughter Emily who was conceived through IVF.
At the time, Dr McBain summed up the issue by saying: “Infertility is not a choice. The one in six people who will need medical assistance to conceive have no control over this condition and these significant increases in the cost of treatment will make an already stressful situation for couples even more stressful.”
He’s right, and I don’t think the Government should be adding to the stress faced by couples at a time like that.
We don’t punish people for other medical conditions they have and have no control over, so why would we punish those who need to access reproductive assistance.
If there is credible evidence of rorting by any doctor my response to the Government is simple – target those doctors, not every patient.
If there is evidence of genuine wrong-doing, address that problem with the doctors involved. But don’t punish the 40,000 Australians who access IVF services annually and some of whom are lucky enough to conceive one or more of the 11,000 babies which are born as a result.
For years we have had the baby bonus which has given money to anybody who has had a baby in this country, regardless of circumstance.
And yet here we have a group of Australians with specific medical needs who just want the chance to have a child, to add to their lives and to society, and the government wants to say to them, “Sorry, we can’t afford to help you”.
We can afford to help these couples and we must help these couples.
I am grateful that the Coalition has agreed to support me in my stance against these changes and that Senator Fielding has also come on board. We all need to fight this.
There is something very human for many of us about wanting to have children and about wanting to see that little baby grow into a child, and a teenager, and eventually an adult.
It’s deeply ingrained in our psyche. For many it is a key part of life.
Science can deliver this opportunity to thousands of Australians every year who would otherwise be left infertile.
Government must not stand in the way.
I don’t want Australia to become the kind of country where there is IVF for the rich and infertility for the rest.
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