Re: [PublicPopForum] IVF fanatics
Article from today's The Age. The selfishness of the fanatics at the Access Australia lobby group seriously annoys me! IVF funding is out of control and should be drastically curbed - infertility is not a life-threatening, disfiguring or disabling medical condition.
Liz Porter and Josh Gordon
April 12, 2009 - 12:01AM
ISABELLA Zogopoulos is a gorgeous $70,000 miracle that we all helped to create.
The 13-month-old was conceived after her mother, forklift driver Theona Zogopoulos, endured 10 cycles of IVF at a personal cost of $30,000.
Taxpayers chipped in the rest via the Medicare safety net scheme, making the long-held dream of parenthood a reality for Ms Zogopoulos and her council worker husband, Chris.
"I call her my little miracle on ice," the besotted mother says. "She was on ice for 18 months."
But without the 80 per cent rebate on the IVF procedure the family also had other medical expenses it's doubtful the Zogopouloses, who took out a $20,000 bank loan to cover their costs, would have been able to afford so many IVF cycles.
Now, as the Federal Government scrapes for savings ahead of the May 12 budget, it is looking again at publicly funded IVF and obstetric services, which cost taxpayers $141 million a year through the safety net scheme.
The Zogopouloses fear such a move would render their dream of giving Isabella a brother or sister financially impossible.
"It is very disappointing," Ms Zogopoulos, 37, says. "There are plenty of other things that the Government can look at and cut money from."
The issue of tampering with public funding for fertility services is politically fraught, as the previous Howard government discovered, because the area of assisted reproduction is emotionally charged and access to IVF is now widely accepted as a right in Australia. It is a right that is increasingly expensive: the safety net scheme, which has leapt 28 per cent since 2007, now costs $319 million a year, 44 per cent of it IVF and obstetric services.
How much taxpayers should subsidise assisted reproduction, and whether it should be means tested, remains controversial.
When the Howard government tried to rein in the public cost in 2005 by limiting funding to three cycles a year for women up to the age of 42, or three in total for older women, it was a disaster.
But with Labor's economic strategists now considering ways to pare back the safety net scheme, the IVF industry fears rebates on fertility and obstetric services are again at risk.
Options being considered by the Government are believed to include capping the number of (now unlimited) publicly funded cycles available, means testing, and restricting access on the basis of age.
In the lead-up to the 2007 election, Health Minister Nicola Roxon pledged there would be no move to tamper with the safety net, introduced by the Howard government in 2004 to cover 80 per cent of out-of-pocket medical costs above $1111.60 in any given year (or $555.70 for low-income earners).
Yesterday, Ms Roxon declined to "engage in speculation ahead of the May budget" with The Sunday Age.
But Access Australia, which represents IVF consumers, is taking no chances. It has been encouraging its members to flood the offices of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan with angry emails.
Sandra Dill, Access chief executive, argues that infertility is a medical condition like any other funded through Medicare and should not be singled out.
Means testing or restricting public funding would make IVF affordable only for the wealthy, even though fertility issues affected as many as one in six Australians, she said.
IVF is now the preferred treatment for infertility, and the number of babies born with the help of assisted reproductive technology has trebled since 1995, to 11,000 a year.
"I find it curious that on the one hand the Government recognises the economic benefit of having children and yet for another group of people who are trying to have them who need medical help they are threatening to make that even more unaffordable," Ms Dill said.
She did not believe access to IVF should be restricted on the basis of age because individual doctors made decisions on a case-by-case basis and were unlikely to recommend IVF to women who had a low probability of success.
In Ms Zogopoulos' case, each of the 10 IVF cycles involved an upfront cost of $5300. The usual cycle costs $4400, but she was also using the ICSI technique, in which sperm is injected directly into an egg. Should she attempt IVF again, she will need to have a $3280, non-Medicare rebatable procedure in which cells from her embryos would be tested each cycle, to check for any genetic abnormality. The test could help avoid the previous nightmare of repeated failed implantations.
But it will add to the overall cost and if rebates are cut, could mean the Zogopouloses cannot afford to try for a second baby.
Ms Zogopoulos believes the only fair cut would be a means test, by which wealthier people get smaller rebates.
"I feel sorry for people just starting out on IVF. It is always very stressful financially," she said.
The extraordinary 28 per cent blow-out in the safety net bill since 2007 has been linked to the rise in gynaecologists' fees, which, according to one estimate, have increased by more than 400 per cent since the scheme was introduced in 2004.
A senior Government source said the safety net had blunted competition in the health sector, allowing obstetricians to raise fees.
But the president of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Dr Andrew Pesce, denied that charging for IVF in Australia was spiralling out of control, saying costs were relatively low by world standards.
He said the increase was due to IVF becoming the treatment of choice for infertility, whereas previously it was one option among several, including surgery.
Federal MP Tony Abbott, who as health minister in 2005 tried to implement the disastrous attempt to limit public funding for IVF, concedes now that: "If you are a fortysomething woman who is desperate to have a baby and the Government decides that the rules are going to be changed to make it harder for you to pay for this, you get very, very unhappy."
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