Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative

Lack of access to fertility care is ‘fundamentally first a cost problem’

May 11, 2022, 9:00 PM UTC

About one in eight couples, or 7.4 million Americans, struggle with infertility, according to the latest figures. Not to mention the many LGBTQ couples that also need help starting a family. 

Yet many Americans find themselves without a lot of support in navigating or paying for these types of services. A single IVF cycle, for example, can cost upwards of $16,000—and that typically doesn’t factor in the cost of medications, anesthesia, embryo biopsies and storage, or the frozen embryo transfer. Not to mention that most patients need two or three cycles to become pregnant

“The access problem in fertility health care is really, fundamentally first a cost problem,” Tammy Sun, cofounder and CEO of Carrot Fertility, said Wednesday during Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference

But why is this care so expensive? “This is very much a supply and demand situation,” said T.J. Farnsworth, founder and CEO of Inception Fertility. “You’ve got a scenario where we’re graduating roughly one fertility specialist physician for every 11 million Americans every year. It is not sustainable.”

What that boils down to is that this lack of supply drives up the cost. “There just isn’t enough physicians to meet the demand of services that are ever expanding, which is a good thing,” Farnsworth says. 

Part of what Inception is working to do is fill some of the shortfall by using technology and innovative care models to try and extend physicians’ capacity—not just in urban areas, but in cities and towns that may lack a fertility care center at all. “We’ve got to build to meet that demand in order to drive down access from a cost perspective,” he said. 

In addition to bridging the gap, Sun said that it’s important to also challenge what the level of appropriate care may be.

“There are really, really important patient cases that need to be escalated into a surgical intervention like IVF, but there are also first- and second-line interventions…that really need to be understood and presented as a complete and comprehensive solution that are less expensive, that don’t necessarily require physical presence and participation inside a fertility clinic,” Sun said. 

Employer buy-in can also offer financial help to working families. Although the depth and breadth of fertility benefits can vary dramatically from company to company, about a third of small U.S. employers with less than 500 employees cover some type of infertility service, while 61% of large employers do the same, according to Mercer’s 2021 survey on fertility benefits. And more companies are jumping into the fray thanks to trends like the Great Resignation that have workers demanding more from their employers in terms of benefits and compensation.

Still, employees are actively seeking out these benefits. Nearly half of workers (45%) reported these types of benefits are an important component when considering a new job, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Fortune earlier this year. 

Fertility benefits can be an avenue through which employers can show they’re inclusive and make employees understand how much they mean to them, Farnsworth said. 

In an ongoing monthly survey, Carrot found an average of 96% of their members say they are more likely to stay longer at their company because they have access to fertility benefits, Sun shared. 

There’s “power” in building these types of programs that really resonate with employees, Sun said. 

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.