TOKYO – The wait to see the doctor at Japan’s popular fertility clinic, Saint Mother’s Hospital, has just gotten longer.
From this week, public health insurance will reimburse 70% of the costs of advanced fertility treatments as part of the government’s bid to halt the decline of one of the world’s most aging populations.
Atsushi Tanaka, a doctor and director of Holy Mother in Kita Kyushu, southern Japan, expects more patients at his clinic, which is already full of couples seeking treatments such as in vitro fertilization or IVF, which previously cost more than $4,090 per cycle – more than the average monthly household income.
“I think we’ll see a lot of patients,” he said, adding that nationwide IVF attempts could even double.
Still, Tanaka and other specialists say that won’t be enough to reverse Japan’s population decline, with patients still facing huge costs and insurance coverage that excludes procedures like genetic testing and the use of drugs. donor eggs. With the number of women of childbearing age falling in the coming years, they said, the government must do more.
Japan’s experience will serve as a test case for advanced economies facing falling birth rates. While free, or nearly free, IVF treatments are already available in a handful of countries, including Denmark and France, Japan is the largest economy to subsidize most of the costs of these treatments.
It already has one of the highest numbers of women in the world trying IVF. One in 14 babies, or about 7% of babies, were conceived through IVF in 2019, compared to 2% in the United States. Yet its birth rate still hovers around 1.3, well below the 2.1 rate that the OECD says is needed to maintain a stable population.
The move is the latest attempt to encourage young people to have babies. Over the past decade, it has expanded financial subsidies for child care centers and monthly allowances for families with children.
Parental leave policies in Japan are already among the most generous in the world, although few fathers take full advantage of what is on offer, due to social and professional pressure.
The government had previously offered financial assistance to low-income couples seeking fertility treatment, but the latest change aims to provide access to a wider population seeking IVF, including methods such as injection of sperm into the uterus during ovulation and the use of frozen embryos.
Policymakers hope the insurance cover will encourage couples, who are struggling with years of low wages in a weak economy, to try treatment sooner.
“It’s good that it lowers the bar for people in their early thirties who need IVF treatment but have been waiting for their bonuses,” said Yuko Imamura of the Health and Global Policy Institute, an independent think tank. based in Tokyo that focuses on health policy. .
Yet for Yuki Yano and her husband, who have been trying to conceive for a few years, treatments like IVF are still too expensive. Even with insurance coverage, they might have to pay around 150,000 yen ($1,224) per cycle.
“We are barely making ends meet, and we don’t have the money to pay hundreds of thousands of yen for IVF,” the 31-year-old said.
For now, she’s sticking to Clomid, a drug that helps stimulate ovulation. Since suffering an ectopic pregnancy which required the removal of a fallopian tube, she has found the treatment stressful, particularly when her husband – a long-distance truck driver – is away during the days of maximum fertility. “It’s tough, to be honest. And I’m getting older in the meantime.
To pay for the new blanket, the government set aside 17.4 billion yen ($138,686) in the budget for the fiscal year that began on Friday. Analysts say it’s hard to say whether the spending will pay off. South Korea’s birth rate continues to fall despite the expansion of public insurance coverage for fertility treatments, although some studies from countries like Denmark are more encouraging.
Investors tempered their expectations. The announcement of the plan in 2020 by then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sparked a surge in shares of Aska Pharmaceutical Holdings, which produces estrogen injections, and Fuji Pharma Co., another producer of estrogen injections. hormonal treatments. But both have since retreated, underperforming the benchmark Topix index.
Some say there is room to do more. Saint Mother’s Tanaka said the government should consider helping pay for egg freezing, an expensive treatment not covered by public insurance. Companies like Google have offered female employees the ability to freeze their eggs, giving them greater freedom to pursue careers and family planning.
“The government tells women to work. But they also tell women to have children earlier, and isn’t that contradictory? This is a solution,” he said. It also supports insurance coverage of methods such as expedited surveillance or preimplantation genetic testing, technologies credited with higher success rates.
But many women say it’s not just about medical treatment. A recent study by Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. found that a majority of Japanese women believed it was impossible to pursue both fertility treatment and work.
Megumi Takai, 33, plans to quit her full-time office job soon and work part-time to focus more on fertility treatment. She said many women were unable to use their time off for doctor’s appointments, believing it was too sensitive a subject to discuss at work.
“I wish society was more supportive of this and everyone could take time off when needed,” she said. ——— (C)2022 Bloomberg LP Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.