Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc announced last week that the Quebec government will fully fund up to three cycles of in-vitro treatment for infertile couples. This announcement, which fulfills a pre-election promise made by Jean Charest in 2008, makes Quebec the first province to adopt such a policy. It is a program, however, that all other provinces should seek to emulate.
This move makes sense on many levels. Infertility is a medical condition that affects many Canadians. However, despite our system of universal health care, in-vitro fertility treatments are privately funded, and cost $10,000 to $20,000 per round of treatment. Because of this high cost, many couples opt to transfer large numbers of embryos in one cycle – drastically increasing the risk of multiple births.
This option makes sense for many couples given the prohibitive costs associated with the procedure. However, in many cases of multiple embryo transfers, instead of one baby, women often find themselves pregnant with multiples.
Any pregnancy that involves more than two foetuses is dangerous. As the number of foetuses increases, so does the risk of premature delivery, cesarean sections, intensive neonatal care, cerebral palsy, and other complications.
By funding in-vitro, the Quebec government will be able to regulate the procedure. The government will limit the number of embryos that can be transferred during any one cycle to three. This regulation should greatly reduce the number of multiple births in the province – something that is important in a country that is on the way to having one of the highest multiple birth rates on the planet.
Even for those who believe medical costs should be borne by private individuals instead of governments, this announcement has some economic benefits. Right now, the medical costs associated with complications resulting from multiple births are paid by the province. By funding in-vitro, the Quebec government anticipates that it will save up to $30 million in health care costs per year. These savings will help to partially offset the estimated $80-million-per-year cost of the in-vitro program.
Provincial governments in Ontario and Alberta have promised in the past few years to explore the possibility of funding in-vitro fertility programs. Hopefully Bolduc’s announcement will provide a further incentive for their governments as well as those of the other provinces.
While government funding for in-vitro will not entirely solve Canada’s low birth rates – as the in-vitro funding lobby would have us believe – Quebec’s move is an important step for the health of individual Canadians.