A survey of more than 650 Victorian women has found that most believe that the significant costs of the non-medical fertility procedure should be supplemented by the healthcare system.
With the procedure costing up to $10,000 per cycle in Australia, 46% of respondents said they supported full public funding of non-medical egg freezing through Medicare, and a third said they supported partial public funding.
A quarter of survey respondents, whose median age was 28 years and three quarters, told researchers that they supported funding through private health insurance.
The study was published in the Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online this week.
Monash Bioethics Centre researcher Dr Molly Johnson led the study with colleagues from the university’s faculty of medicine, nursing and health sciences, and Barwon Health. She said that given recent technological advancements and rising demands for egg freezing in the population, it made sense to reassess how the procedure was funded.
“The cost of egg freezing is significant, often prohibitively high, which is a barrier to access,” Johnston said.
“This study shows that some women think that both medical and non-medical egg freezing warrants financial support through Medicare, which challenges the use of the medical / non-medical distinction as a criterion for allocating funding.”
The survey also found that most women surveyed supported a payment split for the non-medical egg freezing between the public and private health systems, rather than between Medicare and the individual.
Over the last decade demand for non-medical egg freezing significantly increased, the researchers noted, with younger women reporting that the procedure was desirable because they wanted to increase their chances of conceiving later in life (and at an age when their fertility may be compromised due to age).
A Monash Bioethics Centre study into the concept of egg freezing as an employee benefit has revealed almost half of the Victorian women surveyed believe it would be appropriate. Lead author @mollyljohnston spoke to @guardian about the study's findings. https://t.co/U6Zo61bbkp
— Monash Arts (@Monash_Arts) July 15, 2021
All people surveyed for the study did not have children and the most common reason given for wanting to undertake non-medical egg freezing was not having a suitable partner to have children with.
Despite the trends, Dr Johnston said that the cost-effectiveness of egg freezing should be questioned because emerging data showed many patients who underwent the procedure did not require the frozen eggs to conceive in later life.
A ‘high proportion’ of survey respondents reported they would consider donating their own surplus frozen eggs for either research purposes, to a known recipient or donor program.
“If some women freeze their eggs but never use them, there could be tangible benefits to society if they are donated,” Johnston suggested.
Dr Johnston added that since the costs of the procedure served a ‘significant determinant of accessibility’, more care was needed to develop policies that promoted more equitable access to it.
“This research raises important questions about who should be able to access egg freezing and the findings do not reflect the current funding scheme operating in Australia,” Johnston said.
“There is a discrepancy between public funding for medical and non-medical egg freezing, but it is clear that egg freezing can provide individual benefits, and if surplus eggs were donated, it could benefit the broader community.”