Women are accessing their superannuation to pay for IVF.

Lisa Mahar, 36, and her partner were desperate to have a baby. They couldn’t conceive naturally but they also couldn’t afford $11,000 for the initial IVF treatment.

Running out of options, the pair approached SuperCare. A company that helps individuals access money from their superannuation for when “medical interventions are required”. They help people find funding for IVF, bariatric surgery, cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty and otoplasty, as well as body contouring after massive weight loss.

How is this allowed? SuperCare applies to the Department of Human Services, citing regulation 6.19A(1) of the 1994 Superannuation Industry Regulations. The guidelines state superannuation can be released early to treat a life-threatening illness or injury; alleviate acute or chronic pain; or alleviate acute or chronic mental disturbance.

Helping a woman fall pregnant falls under the mental health category. Mahar and her partner paid SuperCare $900 to retrieve $11,000 from Mahar’s super fund.

The couple’s story is not uncommon. Use IVF in Australia is increasing. There were 71,516 assisted reproductive treatments performed in Australia and New Zealand in 2013, which was a 14% increase from three years earlier. Today, close to one in 30 babies is conceived through IVF.

Their financial situation is not unique either. $11,000 can sound impossibly far away for many who are considering IVF. There are single women living on a sole income. Women who’ve tried and tried to conceive, who’ve spent their savings on previous unsuccessful IVF treatments. Couples who are desperate to have a baby, but who are also struggling with debt or have their money tied into assets or mortgages or life. 

It’s a desperate situation, made even more dire by the relentless march of the biological clock.

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But is accessing superannuation really the best answer?

“Over the last 12 months, SuperCare has assisted clients to access services valued in excess of $65M. This includes $24.6M for Bariatric procedures, $9.4M for Orthopaedic services and $18.7M for Fertility/IVF treatment,” the SuperCare Company Profile document reads.

That’s a lot of money coming out of Australians’ futures.

I do not pretend to know the desire to have a baby. I am not in a place where I am considering children, and will not be for some time. I do not pretend to know the mind or the heart of a 36-year-old woman who desperately wants a baby. And I’m sure, if I were in Mahar’s position I would also jump at every opportunity.

But to me, taking out of your future for the purpose of creating a family seems counter-intuitive. Providing this option feels like preying on people who have very few options left.

Already, women are in a vulnerable position when it comes to superannuation and living in retirement. In April this year, a senate report found women retire with just less than half ($104,734 is the average figure for Australian women) of the superannuation males retire with ($197,054). More than this, one in three women will retire with no super at all and 40% of single retired women live below the poverty line.

Is it right that women should lose out again for the purpose of starting a family?

The gender pay gap remains. Post continues below video.

Video by ABC

The costs of IVF is another thing. A standard cycle costs around $9,800 and this can increase to $13,000 – $15,000 for a cycle with advanced diagnostics. Medicare covers some of the expense. But there are huge, glaring differences in the offerings between clinics.

In Sydney you can pay anywhere between $1,870 to $9,000, after Medicare, for three IVF cycles. Considering the “success rate” of fertility treatments varies so drastically between clinics (and there is no public record available to compare clinics) these costings can be a distinguishing factor for many women.

“Are the chances of success more likely if I spend closer to $10,000 than $1,000?”

SuperCare’s success rates are promising. They claim to have a 98% success rate in withdrawing money from superannuation funds. All you have to do is call, apply, then several weeks later the money is in your account.

IVF, on the other hand, carries only a 25-30% chance of pregnancy for women aged 35-40. And it usually takes three cycles for the treatment to work.

Doesn’t this – subtracting from your future for a chance to fall pregnant- sound like risk compounding on more risk? Remembering that it’s an emotional, difficult, desperate situation where nothing is guaranteed.

What happens if it doesn’t work? Do you dip in to your super once more?

What happens if it does work? How has the cost affected your retirement? The future of the children you are bringing into the world?

The cold hard data tells us that women are the losers in retirement due to low superannuation levels. Targeting women who are making perhaps the biggest emotional decision of their lives and offering them a solution that can see their already fragile future diminish even further doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of Australian women.

Surely, there is a better way for women to access IVF treatments?

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