Fertility benefits: Going above and beyond

Fertility coverage is a new must-have benefit.

What started out as a generous fringe benefit for employees just a few years ago has evolved into an increasingly mainstream health benefit across corporate America. This slow but rising trend can be attributed to a number of factors, including a competitive job market.

Research shows that 68% of millennials take coverage for fertility into consideration when choosing an employer, and a recent survey by benefits consulting firm Mercer showed that 44% of employers with more than 20,000 workers offered some sort of in vitro fertilization benefit in 2018, compared with 37% in 2017.

As more companies offer IVF as a means to attract and retain talent — while also demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion — it’s critical for employers to understand how some often-overlooked aspects of the IVF patient experience can lead to higher costs down the road.

So what can employers do to help ensure that both the business and their employees achieve the best possible results?

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Women rate the stress of undergoing IVF on par with major life events such as the death of a family member or divorce, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. While partial or complete employer insurance coverage can help alleviate employee stress as it relates to financing IVF treatment, it by no means eliminates it. In addition to the psychological distress most IVF patients experience on fertility drugs, many women also experience anxiety around not knowing whether this complicated and expensive medical procedure will lead to a successful pregnancy.

All of this stress and anxiety can take a financial toll on companies. Stress costs U.S. businesses approximately $300 billion a year as a result of absenteeism, reduced productivity and employee turnover, the American Psychological Association finds. Another study found that the cost of replacing an employee who leaves her job can be anywhere from 20% to 213% of an employee’s annual salary.

Finding quality care within your insurance network is another significant and often unrecognized aspect of the IVF journey. Take the formidable task of choosing a fertility clinic. For example, some experts say choosing a clinic conveniently located near home or work means less time away from the office. Others believe long distances are worth traveling to see a top specialist, as different clinics’ success rates can vary.

The sheer time commitment required — from attending appointments and managing medications, to just trying to make sense of the whole process — is often overlooked. Employers, even those who offer fertility benefits, might not recognize that women undergoing IVF (who are not visibly pregnant) require support and flexibility.

Beyond this, deciphering which treatments and medications a fertility plan will cover can also be daunting. Doctor’s visits are often too short to adequately cover complex topics — from the diagnostic process (i.e. why getting pregnant hasn’t worked so far), to the pros and cons of different treatment options — and IVF patients can frequently leave appointments with more questions than when they arrived. This confusion can increase costs for employers, as well.

The average cost of a single IVF cycle is $12,000, and the varying success rates of different fertility clinics can affect the number of cycles an individual will need (and, in turn, the total amount the employer ends up spending on IVF treatments). Moreover, without additional information about various treatment options and tests that should be undergone prior to starting IVF, some patients incur even more superfluous costs (not to mention heartache) by going down a path with little chance of success.

What employers need to keep in mind

To start, mental health and counseling services are essential to help manage the ups and downs of IVF. Also, at most major fertility clinics, it’s common for patients to see their doctor for the first visit and then never again. Being able to remain in contact with the same OBGYN throughout that transition is important, especially as new questions pop up seemingly every day.

Some form of consistency and personal attention is key — and proof that a personal care coordinator, or someone who advocates for employees throughout their experience, including coordinating support during pregnancy, postpartum and return to work, can go a long way toward making patients feel secure and supported.

Lastly, IVF patients often need convenient access to a second opinion from a doctor and a library of high quality, reliable content for information and answers to questions at any time. With 77% of the population owning smartphones, an app-based platform is ideal, so women can get the personalized support and information they need, whenever and wherever they want it.

The IVF experience is much more than the procedure itself. It’s clear employers must provide holistic care — support on physical, mental and lifestyle needs via a single care team working together in real-time — in order for employees to achieve the best possible outcome from their fertility benefits, while in tandem, avoiding potentially unnecessary or excessive costs to the employer.

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