New Shanghai policy seeks to encourage childbirth

Updated: May 23, 2024 By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai China Daily Print
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Individuals struggling with fertility who seek assisted reproductive treatment in Shanghai will have their medical bills partly reimbursed by the city's public medical insurance fund starting on June 1, according to a recent policy encouraging people to have more children.

Of the 17 assisted reproductive treatment procedures offered in the city, 12 of them — including egg retrieval, sperm retrieval, screenings for high-quality sperm, artificial insemination, embryo culture and embryo transfer — will be included on the medical insurance list, according to the policy announced by the Shanghai Healthcare Security Administration on Wednesday.

This means individuals will only need to bear around 30 percent of the costs, which will make the treatments more affordable for those who are eager to become parents but are having difficulties with conception.

Shanghai will budget roughly 900 million yuan ($124 million) to fund the reimbursements each year. There are approximately 100,000 people receiving assisted reproductive treatment in Shanghai annually, and each patient is expected to save an average of about 9,000 yuan in treatment costs, according to the bureau.

Sun Yun, vice-president of Renji Hospital affiliated with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, said that the incidence of infertility in China is increasing rapidly, and the proportion has risen from 2 percent in the 1950s to 18.5 percent.

"Today, one in every eight couples of childbearing age in the country needs to seek help from assisted reproductive procedures, making China the place where one-third of the world's total number of assisted reproductive treatments takes place," said Sun, an expert in reproductive medicine.

She also mentioned that the policy will be especially helpful for older women who are trying to conceive, as they must often get multiple treatments, which pushes up their medical bills.

"For those under age 30, usually 70 percent can carry a baby after using the embryo transfer treatment just once. But the proportion drops to 30 percent for those age 35 and above, and 15 percent for those age 40 or above," Sun said.

Qian Wenwen, who gave birth to a boy four years ago at age 32 after undergoing in vitro fertilization, said that she had been thinking about whether to undergo the treatment again to have a second child. The new cost-saving policy has encouraged her to give it a try, she said.

"Last time, I got pregnant after three IVF trials, which cost me nearly 100,000 yuan. Now I may undergo more attempts before getting pregnant successfully, and that may generate more costly medical bills. The new policy will help," she said.

To promote long-term, balanced population development, assisted reproductive procedures are being covered by public medical insurance in an increasing number of regions across the country.

Jiangxi province recently announced that residents will be reimbursed for most assisted reproductive procedures beginning next month. Other provincial-level regions, including the autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, and the provinces of Gansu and Shandong, announced similar policies earlier this year.

Beijing welcomed such a policy in July last year, as did the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in November.

Some women said they believe that better gender equality in the workplace, as well as more family and social support systems related to childbirth, may increase their willingness to become mothers.

"Compared with men, women's cost in marriage and raising offspring is much higher. However, work-life balance shouldn't be a question posed to women solely. Men should be encouraged to bear more household duties," said Bao Yiqing, a 34-year-old single woman working in Shanghai.

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