Medical insurance coverage for assisted reproduction reignites hope for infertile couples

Updated: Jul 8, 2024 Xinhua Print
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BEIJING -- Zhang Xin, 38, from Lanzhou in northwest China's Gansu Province, felt frustrated at an initial failure with assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment in her quest for a baby due to fertility challenges.

The procedure, although unsuccessful, cost Zhang over 40,000 yuan (about 5,600 US dollars). "It was a big expense for an ordinary family. It is always hard to succeed in having a test tube baby on the first attempt," Zhang said.

However, she is preparing to give it another shot recently. The encouraging news of ART services being covered under medical insurance to reduce medical costs has reignited her hope.

Starting in July last year, Gansu became one of the first provinces in China to include assisted reproduction services in the national medical insurance payment system.

Deemed by infertile families as their last hope to have a child, ART has played a positive role in supporting reproduction and boosting the birth rate in recent years, with the number of new births resulting from this technology exceeding 300,000 per year, according to the National Health Commission.

A research report revealed that this technology is applicable to approximately one-fifth of the entire infertile population in China. However, many patients hesitate due to the high costs involved.

For instance, the process of having a test tube baby involves egg retrieval, sperm retrieval, artificial insemination, embryo culture and embryo transfer. Each treatment cycle typically ranges from 30,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan, depending on the hospital and specific technologies used. Some patients may need to undergo multiple cycles to achieve success.

With the infertility rate rising to 18.2 percent in 2023, China is speeding up efforts to expand the medical insurance coverage of ART services to aid more infertile couples and boost the birth rate in the country.

At present, 12 provincial-level regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Gansu and Shandong, have implemented measures to ensure that medical expenses for ART can be reimbursed through medical insurance funds.

Medical experts believe that the policy can also help unleash the potential of childbirth among couples willing to have children, which will surely bring benefits to more families.

In eastern Shandong Province, the second most populous province in China, about 48,000 people receive ART treatment every year. It is estimated that medical insurance reimbursement can save patients nearly 600 million yuan annually.

According to Yang Xiaokui, director of the department of reproductive medicine at Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, outpatient visits to the department in 2023 increased by 19 percent compared to the previous year, with the cost of its ART services cut by around 70 percent after Beijing included 16 ART technologies into medical insurance payment in July 2023.

Medical institutions are experiencing increased demand for such medical services, prompting them to enhance their technological capabilities and service quality, according to Liu Xiaolin, an official of Gansu provincial healthcare security administration.

In the long run, ART technologies will develop further, addressing more fertility issues such as genetic diseases and birth defects, Liu added.

As more regions are expected to include ART treatment in their local medical insurance systems this year, experts have called for additional supporting measures, such as insurance coverage for medications used in treatment and cross-provincial settlement of medical bills.

"We will always strictly adhere to industry standards and diagnostic guidelines, whether this technology is covered by medical insurance or not," Yang said, adding that medical services not meeting relevant standards may be refused reimbursement by the insurance fund.

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