When her friends complain about how expensive their kids are, Haley Hanzon laughs.
"We just show them the bills showing them how much trying to have these babies cost," she says.
Like one out of every six to eight couples in the U.S., the Hanzons are infertile. The young couple lives in West Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City, and has been trying to start a family without success for several years. Haley leads a local infertility support group of about 20 women, and they often commiserate on the staggering costs of family-building.
While debate nationwide centers around contraceptive access, the costs of conception are so high and insurance coverage so limited that fertility treatment is largely viewed as a luxury good. However, infertility affects rich and the poor alike, and couples like the Hanzons who pursue fertility treatment face an uphill financial battle in building their families.
The Hanzons have spent a couple thousand dollars thus far — a blow to their budget — and they know it could be just the tip of the iceberg.
"I've known people to take out second mortgages, sell cars," says Hanzon. "It can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars."
Money and more money
It's a cost that most insurance plans don't touch. Mindy Berkson is a consultant and founder of Lotus Blossum Consulting, where she counsels infertile couples on options and financial planning. While 15 states require some fertility coverage and three require it as an option, Berkson calls insurance options for infertility "limited at best."
"Most insurance companies have out-of-pocket limits, or limit the number of cycles," Berkson says. Few insurance policies cover procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF), which, according to Berkson, range on average from $10,000 to $18,000 per cycle across the country.
Costs are even higher for egg donation ($25,000 to $30,000) or surrogacy ($70,000-$90,000). Using a surrogate and an egg donor can cost $110,000-$120,000.
According to Berkson, most infertile couples are paying for such treatment out of pocket, borrowing against home equity lines of credit, applying for bank loans or borrowing from would-be grandparents. While oftentimes tax-deductible, the costs can still be staggering, and thousands are seeking reproductive assistance, more every day.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) has doubled over the past decade. In 2010, 147,260 ART cycles resulted in 47,090 live births and 61,564 infants.
"Today, over 1 percent of all infants born in the United States every year are conceived using ART," says a report by the CDC.
Is there a right to conception?
Even with the increase, much of the U.S. population does not even attempt to access ART.
According to data from a National Survey of Family Growth, less than half of women who meet the medical definition of infertility actually seek medical treatment for their condition. In fact, lower-income women, who have disproportionately higher instances of infertility, are most likely to be directed toward contraception and resources to prevent pregnancy. Fertility treatment is by and large considered by policymakers to be "non-essential."
Barbara Collura begs to differ. Collura is the executive director of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to infertility in the U.S.
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