Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National Infertility Week

Infertility is a frequently misunderstood condition. The media tends to focus on the extreme, like the "Octomom" or "Kate Plus Eight" stories. The media also tends to spread myths about infertility.

For example, the media often focuses on just the female side of infertility (which makes infertility look like it's only a female problem) or on age-related infertility (which makes infertility look like only a "career-woman" problem).

Another example, in 2010, a study on fertility and stress led to headlines stating that "Stress Causes Infertility." While the study did find some connection between stress hormones and fertility, the study did not show that stress causes infertility. Only that stress might possibly lead to a couple more months of trying to conceive. However, the media spun the research in a way that fed into a common infertility myth.

NIAW is also needed to let lawmakers know who we are and what we need from them. Also important, it lets them know that we are voters that matter.

Insurance coverage for infertility is only available in 15 out of 50 states in America. Many lawmakers believe that including fertility treatments would raise the cost of insurance for everyone, when in fact, paying for fertility treatments may actually save money. When fertility treatment is not covered by insurance, couples may choose treatments that have a higher risk of triplets and other high-order multiples. IUI, for example, is cheaper than IVF, but comes with a higher risk of multiples.

Also, because IVF is expensive for couples, when insurance does not cover treatment, patients and doctors are more likely to transfer more embryos per cycle than they should. They do so in hopes of having success quickly, despite the higher risk of multiples. With single embryo transfer, many IVF patients can get pregnant with one baby at a time. However, because it may take a few cycles to achieve success, families are often unable or unwilling to give it a try when they are paying out of pocket.

Researchers have found that in states that cover fertility treatment, the number of high-order multiples is lower. Because high-order multiples are often born prematurely, this makes for a huge savings to insurance companies. Hospital preemie care is an extremely expensive. According to the March of Dimes, one preterm baby costs the United States, on average, $51,600. (One set of twins would be just over $100,000 together.) In 2005, that added to up $26.2 billion. That far exceeds what it would cost to cover fertility treatment instead.

There have been situations where laws meant to target abortion have threatened fertility treatment. Other times, laws targeted fertility treatment itself. Just after the Octomom story broke, some lawmakers tried to pass legislation to prevent a future super high-order multiple birth from happening in their state. But because their understanding of infertility and fertility treatment was poor, the laws proposed threatened successful treatment for all infertile couples.

NIAW is also needed to spread awareness of infertility to the general public. With infertility affecting 1 in 8, it's likely that everyone has at least one friend or family member living with infertility. When the general public understands infertility better, fertility challenged couples will be freer to talk about their condition, possibly experience less shame, and receive more support.

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