BY KATHY DOODY, M.D.
Anyone who has ever struggled to conceive knows that overcoming the actual medical cause of their infertility is only one part of the challenge.
Infertility is a battle many patients must fight on three distinct fronts:
Medical. Cultural. And financial.
Different than other areas of medicine, infertility patients face not only the heartache of struggling to create a family but also a myriad of contradicting cultural messages. After all, it seems to be the default expectation from our society, family and friends that we’ll all have children of our own someday.
But when a couple starts trying to conceive and it doesn’t go as planned, they often face a different message: that building a biological family is a nice-to-have, even a luxury. One that maybe they don’t deserve or aren’t meant to achieve, if they absorb the cruel underlying message in advice like “If it’s meant to happen, it will.”
Of course, no one would dream of saying this to someone diagnosed with diabetes, cancer or heart disease!
But infertility is a disease, just like any other.
If you have infertility, that may seem like an obvious statement. But prior to 2017, infertility was not recognized as a disease. That lack of recognition was a major factor that impacted negatively on the fight to increase insurance coverage of infertility.
Having a biological child is not a luxury — it is what our bodies were designed to do. When they can’t, medical intervention is the natural course of action.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about infertility carry over into our healthcare system, despite recognition of infertility as a disease by the WHO, AMA, ASRM, and various other health organizations. As a result, most insurance providers still don’t cover infertility testing and treatment, forcing patients to pay out-of-pocket or take out loans to finance their future families.
When we downplay infertility as a second-class medical issue, treating it becomes a luxury only the 1% can afford.
But fertility is for everybody. Each of us should have affordable access to reproductive medical care, including treatment for infertility. After all, infertility is an incredibly common disease, affecting an estimated 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. alone.
In my 30+ years of practicing reproductive endocrinology, I’ve been encouraged by the strides made by organizations like RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Thanks to their persistent efforts with legislators, 19 states have mandated that insurance companies cover at least some infertility testing or treatment.
As corporations embrace more wellness and lifestyle initiatives for their employees, infertility coverage has also crept slowly onto many employer-sponsored insurance plans.
Many patients are even pushing for infertility coverage directly with their employers — and winning. Your voice is the most powerful weapon you own to combat the unfairness of lack of insurance coverage for infertility. Please don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out!
We’re making progress, but there’s much more work to be done.
If you’re interested in being part of this movement, join me for RESOLVE’s Virtual Advocacy Day on June 17, 2021. During our virtual sessions on Advocacy Day, we’ll speak to Members of Congress about increasing access to fertility care and financial relief, and your story could make all the difference. RESOLVE will provide you with training and information to make your voice heard. Click here to register by June 3.
You can also participate in National Infertility Awareness Week® from April 18-24 by sharing your story on social media, wearing orange, and participating in a virtual Walk of Hope. There will also be an empowering one-hour virtual event on April 22 at 8pm EST. Learn more at infertilityawareness.org.
Patients with infertility are fighting much more than just the disease itself. Let’s give them the fighting chance they deserve.