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Having and raising children is valued by society. We give tax benefits to parents. Many employers offer leave for new parents (and many more should).
So, it is not surprising that there are negative psychological consequences for some women and men who are unable to have children of their own.
“For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives,” former First Lady Laura Bush wrote in her book “Spoken from the Heart,” as she described her and former President George W. Bush’s struggles to have children. They had twin daughters after Laura received hormone treatment.
Yet because many fertility treatments are expensive and not covered by health insurance plans, many women and men don’t access such assistance and simply give up on having children. This is especially true for low-income and people of color.
Under a bill that was recently passed by the Maine House of Representatives, Maine could join the 15 states that require health insurance companies to cover infertility treatments.
Helping families afford infertility diagnosis and treatment is a good policy from a human and economic standpoint.
Infertility impacts both women and men. About 12 percent of women of childbearing age, or their partners, have used fertility services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are many reasons for infertility, including some medical treatments, especially those for cancer.
Mikala Bousquet of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Maine told members of the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee of her work with young cancer patients, who suddenly find themselves not only dealing with a traumatic cancer diagnosis, but also concerns about planning for a future family.
“Hearing the words ‘you have cancer’ is frightening enough,” she said. “Needing to simultaneously consider and act on family planning or fertility preservation should be considered a standard of care and covered by health insurance because it is the right thing to do.”
The Maine Medical Association, which supports the legislation, asked its members about the bill.
“This would be life changing for so many patients,” a physician who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology said, according to testimony from the group’s director of communications and government affairs, Dan Morin.
“I see all the time where patients do not pursue fertility workup or treatment solely due to cost. Right now, if I even mention fertility insurance companies most of the time will not even cover a visit. This would be a really big deal if patients could get coverage,” the doctor said.
Adding this benefit to mandated insurance coverage will increase costs for others with health insurance, as would expanding coverage for any condition. But, given Maine’s small population of women of childbearing age and the small percentage of people who seek fertility services, the increase will likely be minimal.
It will likely be outweighed by the benefits. Having children, of course, isn’t just about economics and statewide needs. But in a state where deaths outnumber births, better supporting people who are having difficulty having children makes sense. Ensuring comprehensive insurance coverage can also be attractive to businesses seeking to recruit young workers.
Pregnancy loss and infertility have long been kept in the shadows. Recognizing the trauma they cause — and ensuring that those seeking to have children have access to medical services through comprehensive health insurance coverage – will benefit our communities and state.