More couples going for IVF as treatment costs fall

More couples going for IVF as treatment costs fall

Couples seeking more help to have babies as govt funding increases for such procedures

More than 1,000 more attempts were made last year by couples who sought help in conceiving, compared to 2012, as fertility treatments are now cheaper with increased state funding.

According to preliminary figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH), 6,059 assisted reproduction cycles were carried out last year, 549 more than in 2013 and 1,099 more than the year before.

Professor P.C. Wong, who heads reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the National University Hospital, said improved funding has lowered the barriers of entry, allowing more couples to seek medical help to conceive.

"With co-funding coupled with Medisave, Singaporean couples can do IVF at almost no out-of-pocket cost," he said.

Fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) cost at least $10,000 per cycle but Singaporean couples can now get up to 75 per cent of the cost covered at public hospitals, up from 50 per cent previously.

The Government had increased the coverage under the Assisted Reproduction Technology co-funding scheme. It also extended the subsidy, at lower rates, to Singaporeans married to permanent residents or foreigners.

Overall, the Health Ministry co-funded 2,859 cycles last year, up from 2,364 cycles in 2013.

Prof Wong said the increase in attempts was a "wonderful thing... which has in a small but not insignificant way added a few more babies to Singapore".

The scheme also now covers up to six cycles - three fresh and three frozen - up from three fresh cycles previously. Medisave can also be used now for fourth and subsequent cycles at both public and private fertility centres, capped at $15,000 in total.

At KK Women's and Children's Hospital, the number of fertility treatments carried out has risen steadily in the last five years.

The director of its KKIVF Centre, Dr Sadhana Nadarajah, said the main reasons could be increased awareness of the availability of IVF treatments as well as government funding, which has made the treatments more affordable.

Still, some hope that more can be done to help couples realise their dreams of becoming parents.

Dr Seng Shay Way, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology with the Singapore Medical Group, said extending the co-funding to private centres would allow couples to see doctors earlier.

While there are eight private fertility centres and only three at public hospitals here, about 62 per cent of couples who sought help to have a baby went to public centres last year, up from 54 per cent in 2012.

"It will enable couples to attain treatment at a younger biological age and henceforth improve their chance of conception," he said. He also suggested a review of the Medisave $15,000 cap, in place since 2004, given rising medical costs.

Ms Lisa Tan, 36, who is seeking medical help to conceive and declined to use her real name, also thinks co-funding should be extended to private centres.

"If the concern is that seeking treatment at private centres is more expensive, then perhaps the co-funding could be capped at a lower percentage then that at public centres," she said.

samboh@sph.com.sg

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