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Facing financial oblivion: the crippling cost of IVF surrogacy.

Medicare card
Current Medicare legislation excludes couples using surrogate mothers from rebates for their IVF cycles

 

By KAHLA PRESTON

If an Australian woman is using IVF in order to get pregnant, she can access financial assistance from Medicare.

But if she is undertaking IVF as part of a legal surrogacy arrangement, she is not entitled to a medical rebate for her cycles – even if she is medically incapable of carrying a child herself.

Once her child is born through IVF surrogacy, she is eligible for paid parental leave and the baby bonus because the Government recognises her as that child’s mother. But she gets no help with the financially crippling costs of undertaking IVF in the first place.

When Jillian Spears approached her doctor about undertaking IVF surrogacy, using her own eggs rather than donor eggs, she was outraged to learn of this inconsistency. Now, she’s fighting to bring the inequality to the Government’s attention.

Jillian, 40, recently began her first IVF cycle in the hope of having a child with Alex, her partner of almost three years. In 2007 she had a hysterectomy due to an ongoing case of endometriosis, and while she was able to keep her ovaries only one appears to be producing quality eggs.

Jillian and her partner Alex
Jillian and Alex
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Having decided against adoption and fostering, the Brisbane couple began researching another option: surrogacy.

Seeking a surrogate abroad is illegal under QLD’s current laws, so they decided to keep the procedure local.

Fortunately, Jillian’s sister – already a mother of four – generously volunteered as surrogate mother.

“Ultimately it’s very, very hard to find a surrogate. So we’re blessed,” Jillian explains, adding that publicly advertising for a surrogate mother is prohibited under local law.

But early visits to the doctor brought two waves of bad news.

Blood tests revealed Jillian’s Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) level was below one, impacting the doctor’s ability to retrieve viable eggs.

Then she learned she was ineligible for Medicare benefits because the IVF was to assist in a legal surrogacy.

“I was devastated. I’m not doing [surrogacy] because I’m afraid to ruin my beautiful body or I don’t have time to be pregnant … I’m doing it because it’s medically necessary,” Jillian says.

Legal surrogacy is a relatively new development in Australian law. Altruistic surrogacy – where no remuneration outside of medical expenses is offered to the surrogate mother – is legal in Australia, although the law differs from one state to the next.

While other associated laws have been changed accordingly, current Medicare regulations do not reflect the legal status of surrogacy. Medicare legislation stipulates couples using Assisted Reproductive Technologies, including IVF, for medical reasons are entitled to rebates, regardless of the number of cycles they undertake. But this support does not apply to couples undertaking IVF to assist in a legal surrogacy arrangement.

“The legislation is clearly outdated. It just feels like they forgot to tick the one box,” Jillian says. After venting her frustration on the Surrogacy Australia Facebook page, she became acquainted with two women in similar circumstances. Together they decided to use online and social media to raise awareness of this legal oversight.

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IVF
This round of IVF might be Jillian’s only chance to use her own eggs in a legal surrogacy.

About a month ago, the trio established a Facebook page and a blog, Medicareless, featuring stories of other Australian couples facing the staggering costs of IVF without access to rebates. For many, the high cost of IVF prevents them from pursuing more than one cycle, therefore reducing their chances of successful egg extraction.

The website also provides links to a petition and a template letter requesting that Health Minister Tanya Plibersek assess the current legislation. Ultimately, Jillian believes their efforts will be successful.

“By making people understand what we’re going through, I really think we can make a difference,” she says.

For the time being, Jillian and Alex are crossing their fingers that this IVF cycle – the only one they can afford using Jillian’s own eggs – is successful. The single egg her doctor retrieved during an egg pick up (EPU) earlier this week has accepted Alex’s sperm, leaving them with one embryo in culture. If this embryo survives, it will be transferred to Jillian’s sister in April.

“If Alex and I are unsuccessful [with IVF] this time … at the cost we’ve already paid, in excess of $13,000, it could be all too late for us. We mightn’t get another chance. But I still want to see this [campaign] through and make sure that it’s a little easier for the next person.”

Want to support Jillian in her campaign for Medicare recognition of IVF surrogacy? Visit the Medicareless blog and Facebook group  to find out how you can get involved.

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