Mississauga couple struggling with infertility pushing for government to cover fertility treatment


Published December 21, 2019 at 1:59 am


While most people are aware that many couples struggle to conceive, few realize how much some couples will sacrifice (emotionally and financially) to have a child–especially at a time when infertility rates are rising in Canada. 

Erica Baumgart and Colin Hall, a Mississauga couple who has gone public with their struggle, are hoping to raise awareness of infertility in relatively young people and put pressure on local MPs to push for a national pharmacare program that will cover fertility treatments

“I have a condition called diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), so in layman’s terms, I’m running out of eggs and I’m only 36,” says Baumgart.

Baumgart is experiencing an issue more typical in older women. According to womenandinfants.org, DOR occurs when a woman’s ovaries lose their reproductive potential, which can lead to infertility.

According to the website, DOR usually occurs around menopause, but the rate of the decrease can vary from woman to woman. The site says that while aging is the primary cause of diminished ovarian reserve, it can also be caused by genetic abnormalities, some medical treatments, and injury.

Baumgart says her egg quality is similar to that of a woman over 40. 

She’s been undergoing fertility treatments in preparation for in vitro fertilization (IVF), and the costs–physical, mental and financial–have been challenging to navigate. 

Baumgart says she and her partner have already spent $25,000 and they don’t have any frozen embryos yet. 

“We have another $5,000 being spent in January and another $5,000 in February or March,” she says. 

Baumgart says fertility specialists have told her that she has about 25 per cent good eggs right now. 

“You have to get four of them to grow to maturity to have a chance. So you need a lot of drugs to grow that many follicles all at once because naturally, your body is only going to produce one a month.”

While Baumgart and Hall’s situation is difficult, they are certainly not alone. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, roughly 16 per cent (or 1 in 6) of couples in Canada experience infertility. 

The health agency says this number has doubled since the 1980s.

“We are told as young women to have a career, and you can have kids later. There is a cost to this, and that’s fertility treatments which are not covered in Canada,” Baumgart and Hall say in their change.org petition. 

Both Baumgart and Hall say they do not have private drug coverage to offset some of the costs of Baumgart’s medications. 

“Ontario offers some coverage but the waitlists are 18+ months long for OHIP-funded IVF.

The drugs for IVF will cost us $6,000 minimum out of pocket, per round. With low ovarian reserve, I’ll need multiple rounds and each round is minimum $16,000 – $25,000 in Ontario.”

Baumgart and Hall have faced some difficult setbacks along the way. 

Baumgart says that after nine days of injections and $5,200 worth of medicine, her planned IVF cycle (which was scheduled for November) was cancelled due to poor response to the medications. 

“I only had one follicle that was maturing. Our new doctor, Dr. Del Valle at the ReproMed Toronto Institute of Reproductive Medicine in Etobicoke, felt this wasn’t worth egg retrieval surgery,” she said, adding that he is giving the couple another shot at IVF in 2020 without paying an additional $10,000 for the procedure. 

“We do have to pay for meds all over again, which is another $5,000 and which has further highlighted the need for national pharmacare to include fertility medications.” 

As of now, OHIP (Ontario’s healthcare plan) only covers one round of IVF, and Baumgart says that, back in the fall, doctors told her that she might not have that much time. 

“We’ve actually had consultations with four different clinics and they’re all pretty much 18-month waits, except the last one. We saw [one specialist] in late October and he looked at all my blood work and what we’ve done and said ‘you don’t have this amount of time left for your own eggs.’

While time has been an issue, so has cost. Baumgart says she and Hall have tried to reduce medication-related expenses by visiting various pharmacies–including one in Concord, Ontario–to try to save on necessary fertility medications. 

The cost, however, has still been high–and Baumgart says she lost a job because her employer couldn’t accommodate her medical appointments. 

While the province does offer some help, the couple says it’s simply not enough. 

“Ontario has the best program in Canada for covered fertility treatments, and we are blessed there but it still sucks because the demand is so much higher and it’s such a silent issue. Nobody talks about it, you know? Who wants to admit that they have [infertility issues]?” 

Baumgart and Hall are hoping that that the newly-reelected Liberal government will move forward on the national pharmacare program that was promised during the election and the Dec. 5 throne speech.

“Too often, Canadians who fall sick suffer twice: once from becoming ill, and again from financial hardship caused by the cost of their medications,” the speech says. 

“Given this reality, pharmacare is the key missing piece of universal health care in this country. The government will take steps to introduce and implement national pharmacare so that Canadians have the drug coverage they need.”

But while it’s difficult to predict whether the Liberals will be able to negotiate such a program with the provinces and territories (the entities that currently fund health care) at a time when the growing deficit is making headlines, it’s also not clear if any such program–if implemented–will cover fertility treatments. 

Baumgart and Hall are hoping to press MPs into pushing for the inclusion of fertility treatments in any program, adding that The World Health Organization has labelled infertility as a disease. 

They’re also hoping that speaking out about infertility will help lift the shame and stigma those affected sometimes feel.

“[There’s a stigma] and it’s a real it’s a shame because if you had diabetes or a heart condition, there wouldn’t be shame around that, but if it’s mental health or infertility, it’s this great big huge secret.”

Baumgart also says people aren’t properly educated about their fertility and steps they can take to determine how quickly they might want to act if they do want to have children. 

She says that one blood test called AMH (Anti Mullerian Hormone), which is not covered by OHIP but only costs $70, could have alerted her to her fertility issue while she had more eggs left.

“It was never offered to me until I was seeking fertility clinic help,” she says, adding that if she knew about her DOR at 28 or 30 years of age, she might have considered freezing her eggs. 

“I just really wish that doctors would tell young women that there is this test because it would have changed everything if I knew about it when I was 30. I would have prioritized freezing my eggs over buying a new car,” Baumgart says. 

Baumgart has a round of IVF scheduled for January, and says it’s been difficult to field some questions–especially from people who are encouraging her and Hall to adopt instead. 

“Easy access to abortion means there are fewer unwanted babies in Canada today and adoption from outside of Canada is more expensive than IVF and doesn’t always guarantee a baby,” she says. 

The couple says that even if a national pharmacare program doesn’t cover fertility treatments entirely, partial coverage would mean a lot to couples who are desperate to conceive.

“While we don’t expect the national pharmacare program to include 100 per cent coverage of these drugs, if even 5 per cent or 10 per cent was covered, it would allow the government to have bulk buying power to help reduce the out of pocket costs for those like us without drug coverage through work,” she says. 

If the couple’s upcoming round of IVF doesn’t work out, they say they might have to seek treatment outside of Canada. 

“After March, we will be forced to go outside of Canada for treatment due to cost,” Baumgart says. 

In the meantime, they’re hoping to raise awareness–and put pressure on the government to truly treat infertility as an illness. 

“[Infertility] is forcing a lot of people to leave Ontario or leave Canada to find the medical care that they need to build their family. I don’t think the government understands that and we feel a bit more helpful by getting the word out there. Somebody has to give this a voice, it’s hard,” Baumgart says. 

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