In fact, Australian fertility specialist Genea reported that the demand for egg freezing increased fivefold between 2014 and 2017. But what exactly is egg freezing, and how much does it cost?
What is egg freezing?
According to clinic IVF Australia, egg freezing allows women to store their unfertilised eggs for use in the future, enabling them to try to become pregnant at a later time when natural conception may be unlikely. Eggs can be stored for many years, and if they are then used to attempt conception, they are fertilised with sperm. If this fertilised egg develops into an embryo, it can then be transferred to the woman’s uterus in the hope that she will become pregnant.
Australia's first dedicated egg freezing clinic has just opened its doors, and Dr Devora Lieberman is here to explain the costs and risks for women who are wanting to press pause on their fertility. #TMS7 pic.twitter.com/KyuFqb2UJp
— The Morning Show (@morningshowon7) February 28, 2019
How much does egg freezing cost?
According to Monash IVF, egg freezing at their clinic costs $4,927, with added costs for your medication and hospital stay of approximately $3,000-$4,000. Pivet Medical Centre list the cost of its egg freezing treatment at $5,950, plus medication and anaesthetist fees.
Both Monash IVF and Pivet Medical Centre include a 12-month period of egg storage in the above fees but storage after this time will attract an extra cost. Egg storage fees will vary depending on the fertility clinic you use, but may range from $40 – $50 a month or about $400 – 500 a year (based on pricing provided by four Australian fertility clinics).
In addition to the cost of freezing your eggs, there will be extra costs involved with fertilisation and embryo transfer when you use the eggs to have a baby with IVF.
Does Medicare cover some of the costs of egg freezing?
According to Monash IVF, Medicare will generally only cover some of the costs relating to the freezing of your eggs if you have a medical reason for pursuing it – for example, you’re undergoing chemotherapy or have severe endometriosis. This may include rebates for hospital procedures such as egg collection, out-of-hospital services such as GP and specialist appointments and diagnostic tests, and some fertility medications. Monash IVF recommends getting a referral letter from your GP, as this may be a prerequisite for any rebates.
Some out-of-hospital appointments and tests may be covered by Medicare for elective egg freezing (where there is no medical reason), so it is best to talk to your GP first so you can get an indication of what you may be able to claim. Keep in mind that Medicare will not cover the costs relating to the act of freezing your eggs or storing them, no matter whether you are undertaking the process for medical or elective reasons.
Does private health insurance cover some of the costs of egg freezing?
If you have private health insurance you may be able to claim some of the out-of-pocket expenses of egg freezing that are not covered by Medicare, depending on your level of cover. However, only in-patient services (where you are formally admitted as a private patient to the hospital) that have a valid Medicare item number will attract a benefit from your private health fund, according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. These in-patient services may include egg collection (item number 13212), frozen embryo preparation (item number 13218) or embryo transfer procedures (item number 13215), the latter of which is for women who have decided to use their frozen eggs to get pregnant. The Commonwealth Ombudsman said if your private health insurance hospital policy includes assisted reproductive services, then your private hospital accommodation and theatre fees for these procedures will be covered, plus some of your anaesthetist and treating doctors’ fees, up to a certain amount.
According to Canstar Research, a Gold tier of hospital cover must include assisted reproductive services cover. Some health funds may also provide hospital cover for these services under other tiers, however, this cover may be restricted, meaning there may be out-of-pocket costs.
Before you book in any treatment, check with your insurer regarding your cover for in-patient egg freezing procedures and what your benefit limits may be.
Why might someone choose to freeze their eggs?
Clinics IVF Australia and Monash IVF report that there are several reasons women might choose to freeze their eggs, including:
- Their fertility is at risk due to a serious illness such as cancer
- They have low anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) levels. This hormone is secreted by cells in developing follicles, and can be a good indicator of their ovarian reserve and number of fertile years they may have
- They are not ready to have a baby right now, perhaps due to financial or relationship reasons, but would like the option to start a family in the future
What are your options for funding an egg freezing treatment?
There are several options available when it comes to financing egg freezing. If you are unable to pay upfront, then ask your fertility clinic whether they have flexible payment options available, such as those that allow you to pay in more manageable instalments over a period of time. Another option may be to take out a personal loan, however watch out for high interest rates and any fees and charges if you decide to apply. If you choose to pay by credit card, keep in mind that you will want to pay it off in full in the interest-free period to avoid paying additional charges.
Many IVF clinics also offer buy now, pay later schemes to allow patients to pay for their egg collection and freezing. If you’re considering entering into one of these agreements, be sure to read the fine print so that you understand the repayment requirements and any fees or interest payments involved if you are late with any payments. It is also a good idea to understand how accessing this service might impact your credit rating.
Monash IVF advises that you may be able to access your superannuation to pay for IVF or freezing your eggs, and there are services available to help you do this. You may also be able to access your partner’s super for egg freezing or IVF. It’s best to inquire with your fertility clinic or super fund about your options. Accessing super to pay for egg freezing or IVF generally falls under the “compassionate grounds” provision.
If you’re thinking of accessing your super to pay for IVF or egg freezing, you might consider getting some professional financial advice around how this will affect your super balance and the funds available to you in retirement.
What is the process involved in egg freezing?
The egg freezing process begins with the patient injecting hormones for 10 to 12 days, according to IVF Australia. A nurse will teach you how to do this yourself, using a pen device with a small needle similar to that used by diabetics. These injections enable about six to 15 eggs to mature, and these eggs are then collected from the ovaries using an ultrasound-guided probe under a light general anaesthetic or sedation. The eggs undergo a procedure known as vitrification, which involves extracting fluid from the eggs and rapidly freezing them, allowing them to be stored for several years. Monash IVF reports that patients are generally able to go home an hour or two after the procedure but advises that you won’t be able to drive home after the anaesthetic, so you should bring a support person along.
Once frozen, the eggs are stored in a tank with liquid nitrogen at -193C and monitored constantly to ensure they remain at the correct temperature, according to IVF Australia.
If you later decide you want to undergo IVF, your fertility specialist can help develop a treatment plan using your frozen eggs. According to Monash IVF, your eggs will be thawed by removing them from the freezing solution and quickly warming them up to 37C. They will then be ready for insemination with the sperm of a partner or donor and, if successful, embryo transfer.
What is the success rate?
Monash IVF cautions that frozen eggs don’t always result in a pregnancy with the success of egg freezing depending mainly on the age you are when you freeze your eggs and how many eggs are frozen. According to Monash IVF, on average, at age 30 around 10 eggs can be required to achieve one pregnancy, while at age 40, 20 eggs can be required. As female fertility declines with age, Monash IVF recommends it’s best to freeze your eggs before you’re 35, if possible.
IVF Australia says that, as vitrification is a relatively new procedure, it is difficult to give precise figures when it comes to the success rate. They suggest that for women aged 35 or under:
- One stimulated cycle on average results in around 10-12 eggs being collected, of which 7-9 may be suitable for vitrification and storage.
- Of these, around 6-8 generally survive warming in the future.
- Around 3-6 of surviving eggs may be fertilised.
- Around 3-5 of the fertilised eggs on average develop into embryos.
- Each single embryo may carry a 20-35% change of developing into a pregnancy.
Are there any risks involved?
Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2015 indicates that egg freezing is not without risks, the most notable being ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a condition which is triggered by the medications given to stimulate ovulation and can result in symptoms ranging from headaches, abdominal pain and nausea to blood clots, shortness of breath and severe vomiting. IVF Australia reports that OHSS occurs in around one in 200 IVF patients, and most cases involve only mild symptoms. Some have also suggested that ovarian stimulation may increase the risk of breast, uterine and other cancers, but the science here is conflicting at this stage.
The published research, led by Angel Petropanagos, states there are also risks involved in the IVF process if the woman later uses her frozen eggs. These risks include multiple pregnancy, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, premature delivery, operative delivery, and delivering a low-birthweight baby. Additionally, if a woman uses her frozen eggs to fall pregnant at an advanced age, she may be at greater risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, complications resulting in caesarean delivery and preterm labour.
Monash IVF advises that freezing your eggs won’t diminish your future egg supply or ovarian reserve as many people believe, as the process simply mimics your body’s usual ovulation cycle. In fact, some women who freeze their eggs don’t end up using them, as they later fall pregnant naturally. If you don’t end up using your frozen eggs, you might consider donating them to someone else who would otherwise be unable to have a baby. For example, IVF Australia has an embryo and egg donation program to facilitate this process.
If you’re thinking about freezing your eggs, the first step is to make an appointment with your GP to talk about your options and obtain any necessary referrals. It’s important to consider your medical history, lifestyle and financial situation before deciding whether the cost and experience of egg freezing is right for you. It’s also important to be aware that while egg freezing may be a comforting back up option for some, it will not necessarily guarantee a successful pregnancy down the line.
Cover image source: Elena Pavlovich (Shutterstock)