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Open Access Research article

A reduction in public funding for fertility treatment - an econometric analysis of access to treatment and savings to government

Georgina M Chambers1*, Van Phuong Hoang1, Rong Zhu2 and Peter J Illingworth3

Author Affiliations

1 Perinatal and Reproductive Epidemiology Research Unit, The University of New South Wales, Level 2, McNevin Dickson Building, Randwick Hospitals Campus, Sydney, 2031, Australia

2 National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, 5001, Australia

3 IVFAustralia Pty Ltd, 176 Pacific Highway, Greenwich, 2065, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:142  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-142

Published: 8 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Almost all assisted reproductive technology (ART) and intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments performed in Australia are subsidized through the Australian Government’s universal insurance scheme, Medicare. In 2010 restrictions on the amount Medicare paid in benefits for these treatments were introduced, increasing patient out-of-pocket payments for fresh and frozen embryo ART cycles and IUI. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the policy on access to treatment, savings in Medicare benefits and the number of ART conceived children not born.

Methods

Pooled quarterly cross-sectional Medicare data from 2007 and 2011 where used to construct a series of Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression models to evaluate the impact of the policy on access to treatment by women of different ages. Government savings in the 12 months after the policy was calculated as the difference between the predicted and observed Medicare benefits paid.

Results

After controlling for underlying time trends and unobserved factors the policy change reduced the number of fresh embryo cycles by almost 8600 cycles over 12 months (a 16% reduction in cycles, p < 0.001). The policy effect was greatest on women aged 40 years and older (38% reduction in cycles, p < 0.001). Younger women engaged in relatively more anticipatory behaviour by bringing forward their fresh cycles to 2009. Frozen embryo cycles, which are approximately one quarter of the cost of a fresh cycle, were only marginally impacted by the policy. Utilisation of IUI cycles were not impacted by the policy. After adjusting for anticipatory behaviour, $76 million in Medicare benefits was saved in the 12 months after the policy change (0.47% of annual Medicare benefits). Between 1200 and 1500 ART conceived children were not born in 2010 as a consequence of the policy.

Conclusions

The introduction of the policy resulted in a significant reduction in fresh ART cycles in the first 15 months after its introduction. Further evaluation on the long term impact of the policy with regard access to treatment and on clinical practice, particularly the number of embryos transferred, is crucial to ensuring equitable access to fertility treatment and the health and welfare of ART children.

Keywords:
Assisted reproductive technology; In vitro fertilization; Infertility; Policy evaluation; Econometrics