How to fund fertility treatment

More couples are struggling to conceive, but IVF prices remain astronomical. Start saving now

Melanie Bien
Sunday 30 January 2000 01:00

The number of couples struggling to have a child is rising. According to Child, the Nat- ional Infertility Support Network, infertility now affects one in six couples.

The number of couples struggling to have a child is rising. According to Child, the Nat- ional Infertility Support Network, infertility now affects one in six couples.

Unfortunately, infertility treatment can be expensive and success is not guaranteed. Along with the emotional and psychological strain, the financial burden can be prohibitive.

"I have come across people who have been forced to take out a mortgage to pay for infertility treatment," says Anja Ruppert at LRMS, insurance inter- mediaries. Desperate couples will even move to a local authority rumoured to offer in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) on the NHS.

LRMS will be the first company to offer insurance cover to women who become pregnant by IVF when it launches its policy in the next fortnight (see business news, page 1). Pregnant women will be able to claim back the money they have spent on trying to conceive and receive a pay-out if there is no surviving baby.

This is a staggering development as the funding of infertility treatment has traditionally been shunned by the NHS while insurance companies have been frightened off by the costs. As it is not seen as a necessity, IVF is rarely available on the NHS.

The process is a real lottery, depending on where you live. "There is a spread of availability of IVF treatment across the country, ranging from plenty in Scotland, to sparse in the Midlands, a bit in the South and none in Northern Ireland," says Tim Hegley, chairman of Issue, the National Fertility Association. "Each local authority makes up its own mind as to how much funding is available. The Government has closed its eyes and is not bothered enough to do anything about it."

Where funding is available, the qualifying criteria vary dramatically. Generally, women have to be married and in a stable relationship and neither partner can already have children. One region in northern England only admits women who are exactly 35 years old.

A closer look at the costs reveals why the Government is so reluctant to fund IVF. A single "cycle" - or attempt to conceive by IVF - costs between £850 and £1,500 on the NHS.

If you go private, it costs between £3,000 and £6,000. Costs can escalate as IVF is rarely successful at the first attempt. There is a 35 per cent success rate which means, typically, that it takes three cycles. Six attempts is not uncommon, leaving a couple with a bill approaching £36,000.

So what action can you take if you are having trouble conceiving? Experts recommend that you should try for at least 12 months before visiting your GP, who will refer you to a fertility specialist.

It is unwise to rely on NHS funding as IVF is usually only available privately. If you have to foot the bill, you will need to budget according to your timescale. If you hope to start treatment within the next couple of years, you need to save as much as possible quickly.

"Start budgeting now," says Donna Bradshaw, a director at independent financial adviser Fiona Price and Partners. "Have a good look at your spending and at how you can make savings."

In the short-term, an instant access high interest bank or building society account is your best bet. Northern Rock pays 6.5 per cent interest on minimum balances of £250 in its Base Rate Tracker account. If you have access to the internet, Egg pays 6.3 per cent on minimum balances of £1.

The odds are that trying to conceive could be a long, drawn-out process. Allowing for problems along the way, it could take five years or so to become pregnant. With this in mind, equity-based investments are the best way to build up funds over the medium to long term.

The first step is to use your tax-free individual savings account (ISA) allowance. This is £7,000 for each partner this tax year, £5,000 in subsequent years. You can invest the entire allowance in a maxi stocks and shares ISA or across three mini ISAs.

Choose your ISA depending upon how much risk you are happy to take. Those with low-risk thresholds should opt for a mini-cash ISA. If you invest the maximum £3,000 allow-ance for this year with the Furness Building Society, it pays 6.8 per cent interest with a 100-day notice period. Stocks and shares ISAs, such as the Fidelity Wealthbuilder, should generate higher returns.

"It is important not to pick anything too speculative as you don't want too much risk," says Ms Bradshaw. "Otherwise you'll be left with nothing just at a time when you need to get your hands on some money."

Paying for infertility treatment is just the start. Check what maternity benefits you are entitled to as you will have to take time off work and a multiple birth will put extra strain on finances. A longer-term savings plan is also essential as costs will continue well after leaving the labour ward.

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