Brainstorm Health: Lack of access to fertility benefits is ‘fundamentally first a cost problem’

About one in eight couples, or 7.4 million Americans, struggle with infertility, according to the latest figures. Not to mention the many LGBTQ couples who also need help starting a family.

Yet many Americans find themselves without much support in navigating or paying for these types of services. A single IVF cycle, for example, can cost more than $16,000—and that usually doesn’t take into account the cost of medication, anesthesia, embryo biopsies and storage, or the frozen embryo transfer. Not to mention that most patients need two or three cycles to conceive.

“The access problem in fertility health care is really, fundamentally first and foremost a cost problem,” Tammy Sun, co-founder and CEO of Carrot Fertility, said Wednesday during Fortune‘s Think Tank Health conference.

But why is this care so expensive? “It’s very much a supply and demand situation,” says TJ Farnsworth, founder and CEO of Inception Fertility. “You have a scenario where we rate about one fertility specialist physician for every 11 million Americans every year. That’s not sustainable.”

The bottom line is that this lack of supply drives up costs. “There just aren’t enough doctors to meet the demand for services that continues to expand, which is a good thing,” says Farnsworth.

Part of what Inception is doing is filling some of the gap by using technology and innovative care models to try to expand physician capacity—not just in urban areas, but in cities and towns that don’t have does not have a fertility care center. “We have to build to meet that demand to reduce access from a cost perspective,” he said.

In addition to bridging the gap, Sun said it’s important to also challenge what the level of appropriate care might be.

“There are many, very important patient cases that need to be escalated to a surgical intervention such as IVF, but there are also first- and second-line interventions … that really need to be understood and presented as a complete and comprehensive solution that less is expensive, which does not necessarily require physical presence and participation in a fertility clinic,” Sun said.

Employer buy-in can also provide financial help to working families. Although the depth and breadth of fertility benefits can vary dramatically from company to company, about a third of small U.S. employers with fewer than 500 employees cover some type of infertility service, while 61% of large employers do the same, according to Mercer’s 2021 survey on fertility benefits. And more companies are jumping into the fray thanks to trends like the Great Resignation that have workers demanding more from their employers in terms of benefits and compensation.

Yet employees are actively seeking these benefits. Nearly half of workers (45%) reported that these types of benefits are an important component when considering a new job, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Fortune earlier in the year.

Fertility benefits can be a way for employers to show they are inclusive and let employees understand how much they mean to them, Farnsworth said.

In an ongoing monthly survey, Carrot found that an average of 96% of their members say they are more likely to stay with their company longer because they have access to fertility benefits, Sun shared.

There is “power” in building these types of programs that really resonate with employees, Sun said.

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