Science //


Leigh Nicholson reports on the potential price hikes facing IVF users.

IVF clinics in Australia are currently at war over whether or not to simplify their methods in order to drop the costs to a more accessible price. Most clinics currently offer IVF procedures at costs ranging from $5,000-$9,000, while some researchers are arguing that it could be done for even a few hundred dollars.

IVF clinics currently offer a range of services specific to each person to increase the efficiency of someone falling pregnant. It differs state to state in who can actually claim IVF; in some places Medicare will offer a rebate of around $3,000-$5,000, often leaving people to pay another $3,000-$5,000. Low-cost clinics, which are still in the process of becoming more prominent, offer less specialised services, with slightly lower efficiency rates
but at a significantly lower price.

Unfortunately, IVF also invokes debates about the ‘price’ of pregnancy. In an interview on ABC Radio National two weeks ago, Prof. Geoff Driscoll, the director of Reproductive Medicine at UNSW, and Adnan Catakovic, CEO of City Fertility Centre, discussed the reasons why the costs of IVF can so often be inflated: you can’t put on a ‘price on a child’. The difficulty in having a discussion like this is that IVF procedures shouldn’t be conflated with ‘buying a child’.

At a forum hosted by the Society of Reproductive Biology last month, Prof. Alan Trounson, a scientist who led the first successful IVF birth in Australia, spoke in support of low-cost IVF clinics in Australia, stating how changing methods could cut the current procedure costs significantly. Trounson suggests swapping out costly technician staff for automated services; something he sees as inevitable in the next 5-10 years. Obviously this would be mean less employment in this area, which is already an understated but important field of research, but it would be mean quicker and less expensive methods.

Researchers have understandably criticized these clinics and their affiliated CEOs. Trounson has been attacked over his role in the conception of IVF and the incredible financial gains he would have originally made. Catakovic called Trounson the ‘Clive Palmer’ of IVF, and in an interview with The Age, James Thiedeman, CEO of Monash IVF, copped out by saying “We’re dealing with people’s gametes here, so I’m always a little bit wary of automation.”

IVF is currently a medical service which has evolved in much the same way as pharmaceutical companies. It’s a free market: services can be charged for exuberant prices under the guise of being the most ‘medical’ and ‘scientific’, just because they can. Success rates in IVF are dictated by a number of factors, such as health, fertility and age, and in some cases it would be the best option to go for a more specialised and costly procedure. But making a blanket rule that all people have to go down this path is an unnecessary waste of resources, money and is also predicated on the assumption that all people seeking IVF are doing so because of infertility issues. The problem is that the people who choose the prices of IVF are the ones invested in the companies.