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Deana Sdao at her home in Toronto, on May 12. Sdao was able to have up to $12,400 covered for any fertility-related procedures and drugs, surrogacy or adoption expenses, as part of a new fertility benefit offered by her employer, Xero.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

When Deana Sdao took a fertility test in 2020, she learned she had low levels of the hormone associated with egg production. She looked into freezing her eggs as a back-up plan for when she and her partner are ready to have a child, but “it was astronomically expensive.”

The procedure to retrieve and freeze eggs costs about $8,000 per round, plus thousands extra for drugs to boost egg production and a yearly storage fee ranging between $500 and $1,000. Women are typically recommended to undergo two rounds.

So she put the idea on the back-burner. But six months into her new job for Xero as a senior social media manager for the Americas, the New Zealand-based software company introduced a fertility benefit. She would be covered for up to $12,400 for any fertility-related procedures and drugs, surrogacy or adoption expenses.

“It was divine timing,” said Ms. Sdao, 33, who lives in Toronto. “It was huge. I’ve heard of this from employers before but I’d never experienced it and honestly it gave me peace of mind.”

Early this year, she had 12 eggs extracted and frozen. An expense that would have been more than $16,000 dropped to roughly $4,000 out of pocket.

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With more women having babies in their 30s and one in six couples struggling with infertility, a growing number of Canadian employers are adding coverage for fertility drugs and treatments to their benefits plan, a timely move given that companies are trying to attract and retain talent in a tight labour market.

According to 2022 survey of more than 500 employers and other benefits plan sponsors by trade publication Benefits Canada, 25 per cent of employers cover fertility treatments and an additional 34 per cent are interested in covering them.

The costs of using assisted reproduction can be dizzying. In-vitro fertilization can run up to $20,000 per round – though women in Ontario and Quebec have access to one province-funded round – plus roughly $5,000 in IVF fertility drugs per cycle. Surrogacy expenses begin at $60,000. (Intrauterine insemination, the first stop before IVF, is roughly $650 per round plus medications.)

“It’s really challenging out there for people to actually have the resources to have a family,” said Tara Wood, president of fertility patient advocacy group Conceivable Dreams.

In February, 2021, Conceivable Dreams and fellow advocacy group Fertility Matters Canada called on Canadian employers to offer such benefits, and released a survey finding that only 5 per cent of employers across the country offered coverage for both fertility drugs and procedures and testing.

The type of coverage, not just the dollar amount, makes a significant difference. Ms. Wood said that while an unreleased Conceivable Dreams survey shows roughly 25 per cent more employers are offering some type of coverage compared to two years ago, the organization hasn’t seen much movement in the number of benefits plans that cover both drugs and treatments. It’s far more common for employers to cover just fertility drugs, which leaves out same-sex couples or other employees who can’t get pregnant themselves and plan to have a child through surrogacy or adoption.

Low coverage amounts can also be a drop in the bucket for employees who aren’t immediately successful, Ms. Wood added.

“Embracing more inclusive, family-friendly benefits is a great way for employers to continue to walk the talk when it comes to these issues,” says Ms. Wood, who has spent the past two years meeting with employers and insurers, making the case for more coverage.

Some of Canada’s largest companies, including the Big Five banks, Telus Communications T-T and Cisco Systems CSCO-Q, have rolled out fertility coverage in the past few years with lifetime coverage amounts between $10,000 and $50,000. Snap Inc. SNAP-N, the parent company of social media app Snapchat, has a lifetime limit of $65,000 for fertility and adoption-related expenses, and $130,000 toward surrogacy expenses.

The trend follows an earlier move from employers in the U.S., where fertility coverage is much more common. As of 2020, 42 per cent of large U.S. employers offered coverage for IVF and 19 per cent covered egg-freezing, according to a survey by consulting firm Mercer.

Jennifer Schmidt, principal at Mercer Canada in Toronto, noted that while there has been a “meaningful” number of employers adding coverage, many small Canadian employers aren’t even given the option by their insurers, due to their size and underwriting arrangements.

Tara van der Heyden, a 45-year-old law clerk who lives in Toronto, experienced the challenge of working with low coverage when she started trying to have her daughter. Over six years, Ms. van der Heyden underwent multiple egg retrievals, IUI attempts and IVF rounds with her own eggs before her successful attempt with donor eggs. The procedures and the drug costs along the way – including a drug to prevent her body from rejecting the donor eggs that cost $2,000 per week – added up to more than $100,000.

Her company, where she began working midway through her attempts to have a baby, covered a maximum of $3,000 for both fertility procedure and drug costs. Ms. van der Heyden, who noted the company’s human resources department attempted to get some of her drug costs covered under its drug plan, said she wished she had more support. She took out a medical loan, emptied her savings multiple times, turned to her credit cards and received help from family, and is now in a debt consolidation program.

“When you’re infertile it’s a sickness,” and therefore should be covered like any other condition, she said. “If my company could have covered more, I wouldn’t have put myself in debt like I did.”

But, she added, “If I had to go through all of this again to have my daughter, I absolutely would.”

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