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When Toronto-based tech company Alida added fertility treatments as a benefit to their company’s group health insurance coverage in mid-2018, their initial intention was to just offer egg freezing.

“Women have been delaying starting a family because of their careers,” explains Fernanda Mendes, HR and benefits administrator at Alida, a customer management and insights platform. The egg freezing benefit, the company reasoned, would support employees experiencing concerns about their ability to have children in future.

At the time, Ms. Mendes was working at an insurance company and Alida was a client. In 2018, fertility treatment benefits were rare, and they still are, she says. But interest was growing. “For example, there were some law firms looking at it at the time,” she recalls.

In doing some research about these types of benefits, Ms. Mendes found that companies who offered fertility benefits as part of their insurance plans typically covered both in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg freezing. So, she presented her findings to Alida and the company decided to add coverage for both procedures.

Currently, coverage for Alida employees includes up to $5,000 lifetime for the drugs and medications required as part of fertility treatments and up to $10,000 lifetime for the treatments themselves, including egg freezing and storage. “If you also insure your spouse under the plan, they too are eligible for this,” says Ms. Mendes, noting that includes same-sex spouses.

When Ms. Mendes joined Alida a year later, in the summer of 2019, she says that fertility benefits weren’t a deciding factor, but it certainly helped.

“I like knowing that it’s there, when and if somebody needs it,” she says.

A slowly growing trend

Roughly one in six couples in Canada experience infertility, a number that has doubled since the 1980s. Fertility treatments such as IVF are growing as well – data from the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society showed that there were 16,852 cycles of IVF initiated in 2018, resulting in 2,438 pregnancies.

The costs associated with egg freezing and IVF can be substantial, ranging between $10,000 to $20,000 per cycle. And while some provinces do provide funding for IVF – for example, Ontario covers the first round, Manitoba offers a tax credit and New Brunswick offers a grant covering partial costs – other provinces including British Columbia and Alberta do not offer any funding at all.

Nicole Moran is a senior account executive in employee benefits at insurance brokerage HUB International. Ms. Moran says that it’s common for most plans to cover the drugs used for fertility treatments and egg freezing, but coverage for the treatments themselves is less popular and has been slowly increasing over the past few years.

“I think a lot of that has to do with that increased interest in DE&I [diversity, equity and inclusion] strategies for companies,” Ms. Moran says. When companies approach her for advice on how their benefits can better reflect their DE&I strategies, she suggests IVF and egg freezing as a way for them to better support female employees.

Ms. Moran says that she’s received the most interest in this benefit from tech companies and organizations with a largely millennial work force. But there’s growing interest from companies that are looking to attract and retain more female staff in general.

Rebecca Paluch, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resources at the UBC Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, says that talent retention and attraction has become especially important amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in the ‘great reshuffle,’ where the war for talent has reached unprecedented levels,” Dr. Paluch says. “I think these types of benefits, if organizations can message them correctly, can help them stand out in this really competitive crowd.”

Family-friendly policies

Getting the messaging right is important for benefits of this nature, says Dr. Paluch, because employees (or potential employees) may perceive a “dual message” around this benefit.

“Practices that on the surface seem to suggest that they support employees can actually backfire on organizations if the implementation and the actual experience from the employees is counter to what the organization is trying to message,” Dr. Paluch says.

For example, some workers might think an employer is encouraging them to delay having children. “It could [communicate] to employees that organizations are saying, ‘You know what? You can put off your personal life and family responsibilities and keep working for us,’” she says.

However, most employees believe these sorts of benefits to be supportive, especially if the organization has other family-friendly benefits in place, Dr. Paluch says. Those may include employment insurance top-ups for parental leave or child care subsidies.

Customization and flexibility are also important when offering a benefit like this, notes Paluch. At Alida, fertility treatments and egg freezing are offered in one of the company’s three coverage plan options.

“Some employees might not ever use it or may not want it,” Ms. Moran says.”It gives that level of customization. There’s also the ability to have [fertility treatment benefits] covered under a health spending account, which is very flexible and offers a flat dollar amount to everyone.”

Ms. Moran believes that offering fertility treatment and egg freezing benefits for employees is a trend that will continue to grow, especially in industries that are struggling with talent recruitment and retention.

“It opens up their candidate base to some really great employees that they might have missed out on otherwise,” she says.

This story has been updated to correctly reflect Dr. Rebecca Paluch’s title.

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