Guest Blog post: Melanie Elliott, Benefits by Design Regional Director
My Experience with Infertility
Infertility is defined as being unable to become pregnant after one year (or six months if over age 35) of actively trying to conceive. 1 in 6 Canadian couples are affected by infertility and that number has been increasing for decades, from 5.4% of couples in 1984 to 8.5% in 1992, and 15.7% today.
I am one in six.
Happily married for two years, my husband and I decided to try for a baby. By this point in my life, I knew that it doesn’t happen right away, but after trying for a year without any success, we went to the doctor for answers. We were quickly referred to a fertility specialist who ran various tests on us and came to the conclusion that we suffer from “unexplained infertility.” After all that, we still didn’t have an answer, but we were young, and everything looked good, so this should be working for us, right?
After two more years of monitored cycles, medicated cycles, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) procedures, and taking time off to “relax,” we came to our only option left, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). The two years I spent at the fertility clinic were the most difficult years of my life. Out of the total three years my husband and I tried for a baby, we only started talking to friends and family about it last year when it became clear to us that we needed support and guidance after suffering in silence.
Luckily, we are a success story and are welcoming a baby girl in January 2020, but there are many other couples out there who haven’t been as lucky yet.
Services Available Through Government
As an Ontario resident, I was lucky enough to have funding for fertility services through the Ontario Fertility Program launched in 2015. Services within this program are available to Ontario residents experiencing issues related to infertility, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or family status. If you are not an Ontario resident, I encourage you to research what is available in your province or territory. Without the Ontario Fertility Program, having a baby would have been a lot harder than it already was for us, or perhaps even beyond our reach.
What are the fertility procedures covered by the Ontario government*?
1. Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) – unlimited attempts
2. Fertility Preservation – once per lifetime
3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) – once per lifetime
In Ontario, we are lucky to have fertility coverage for the procedures listed above. However, there are still many out of pocket expenses that people struggling with infertility will incur, such as fertility drugs, sperm washing, embryo freezing, and other diagnostic tests (to name a few).
*Keep in mind that procedures covered by the government are subject to change, and in fact, OHIP+ has seen some changes since I utilized many of these services.
Services Available Through Benefits
For employers, the infertility conversation and coverage under an employee benefits plan will become more frequent as infertility continues to rise with each decade.
Many insurers have removed fertility drugs from their list of eligible benefits resulting in plan members paying out-of-pocket for these expenses. If the benefit plan you or your client offers doesn’t have fertility drug coverage, how can you help plan members navigate such a trying time?
Health Care Spending Account (HCSA). Implementing an HCSA or reminding your staff that one is included in their plan is an excellent first step. Fertility drugs and/or procedures not covered through a provincial plan can be submitted to an HCSA for reimbursement.
Paramedical Services. Although there isn’t concrete evidence to support acupuncture and the benefits of receiving treatment during an IVF cycle, there are studies that suggest women who have acupuncture sessions during their IVF cycle are twice as likely to end up pregnant. Acupuncture helps reduce stress, improves blood flow within the body and balances hormones. Consider visiting a naturopath to make sure the vitamins and supplements you’re taking are putting you and your body in the best space to maintain a pregnancy. There are lots of supplements for both men and women suffering from infertility that your naturopath can suggest.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP). One of the most important benefits of my group plan was the EAP. I reached out to them when I was at an all-time low after several failed treatments and was booked into see a psychotherapist within days of calling. The relief I felt from speaking with a therapist was paramount in helping me continue through my infertility journey.
Build a Supportive Work Environment
A strong and supportive workplace is a good thing to have in general, but is especially important for any employee struggling with major issues like infertility.
I am fortunate to work for an employer with whom I feel comfortable sharing some of my struggles. Support doesn’t always come in the form of fertility drug coverage so as infertility rates continue to rise, please consider ways that you can, do, or will help your plan members navigate difficult times in their lives.
A supportive employer (and the benefits they provide) can be found across Canada, however, the provincial assistance programs will vary by province. I encourage you to find out what government funding is available to you in your home province.