Beijing will include 16 therapeutic assisted reproductive services under its healthcare insurance system, with effect from July 1, the municipal government announced on Thursday.
The new regulation aims to promote long-term, balanced population development, and support the government's encouragement to have more children, according to the Beijing Medical Insurance Bureau.
The newly added services are deemed to be mature and dependable, and suitable for a large number of people seeking to have babies, and include intrauterine insemination, embryo transfer and other services. At present, 16 hospitals in Beijing can provide the new reproductive services covered by insurance.
"The new regulation will really be a boon to infertile couples, especially less well-off families," said Huang Hefeng, a gynecologist and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, during a previous interview. "The new measures show that the government attaches importance to the population issue. It's also proof of national economic strength."
However, assisted reproduction is not the best solution to the low birthrate problem. Ensuring and promoting healthy reproduction are key to the fertility rate, she said.
According to data from the National Health Commission in October 2021, the infertility rate in China stands at around 7 to 10 percent. Most of those affected can improve their fertility by improving their lifestyle, taking medicine, undergoing surgery, or receiving therapy, but some patients still need the help of assisted reproduction, which is their last chance.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the average age for marriage is currently around 25 to 26 in China. While in cities, the average age rises to 27, which is later than in the past.
The percentage of women marrying after the age of 35 has been increasing in recent years. At the same time, delayed marriage is on the rise in developed cities. For instance, the average age of marriage rose from 25.3 to 30.6 between 2005 and 2023 in Shanghai. The average age at which women marry in Shanghai has risen more noticeably, from 23 to 28.8.
"It is a public health issue," said Tao Minfang, vice-president of Shanghai Sixth People's Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "Policies that encourage women to give birth through incentives are beneficial to increasing the fertility rate and easing the aging problem.
"Having a test-tube baby is a complex and costly process that requires between 30,000($4,200) to 100,000 yuan depending on different factors, but the success rate is only about 50 to 60 percent, which means the patients usually have to repeat the process. If assisted reproduction can be covered by insurance, infertile couples will face a lesser economic burden," Tao added.
Earlier this year, the National Healthcare Security Administration decided to cover infertility treatment medication through its healthcare insurance system. Afterward, some local governments announced they would extend insurance to cover medical services using assisted reproduction and infertility treatment medications. Some other provinces are considering the possibility, in an attempt to increase birthrates and slow the aging population problem.