State will fund fertility treatment for couples - Varadkar
Fertility treatments for couples who are finding it difficult to have a baby naturally are to be publicly funded under new proposals to be announced by Health Minister Leo Varadkar today.
Currently, the treatments are only available privately from clinics at a cost of around €4,000 to €4,500 per course, pushing them out of the reach of many couples.
The minister said he will make fertility treatments available through the public health system under legislation to be published later this year.
The Department of Health is carrying out a review of how fertility treatments are funded in other countries - such as by the NHS in Britain - meaning that a scheme to relieve the financial burden attached to securing these treatments could be in place next year.
Around one in six couples have trouble conceiving. While there are a growing number of treatments available, they are expensive, particularly if several courses are needed before success.
The measure will be part of wider legislation covering various areas of assisted human reproduction, due to be published in the summer.
It will include the first bid to regulate assisted conception, including sperm and egg donation as well as surrogacy.
Mr Varadkar said: "I believe it is important that we should consider how best to provide public funding for fertility treatment in tandem with closing the current legislative gap in this area of healthcare. Fertility treatments should be funded in such a way that not only maximises efficiency but which ensures equity of access as well.
"Nevertheless, the provision of public funding for assisted human reproduction must be accompanied by a robust system of legal governance which will promote and protect the health and well-being of patients and most especially the children who will be born as a result of the treatment."
He said his department is commissioning a review of international public funding models and this will inform policy regarding any future funding here.
"The ability to conceive a child naturally is a normal human expectation and a diagnosis of infertility can be a source of emotional distress, physical discomfort and financial hardship," he said.
Mr Varadkar pointed out that while fertility treatment is not currently provided in the public health service, financial support is available through tax relief for medical expenses. The cost of certain approved medicines is covered under the medical card or the Drugs Payment Scheme.
Rates of infertility are increasing due to a number of social and lifestyle factors, including couples waiting until they are older to start a family and rising levels of obesity.
The costs of fertility treatment here are so high that some couples are going to the Czech Republic where the costs are roughly half, at between €2,000 and €2,500 for a round of IVF. Some private health insurers also offer once-off payments towards treatment.