Why So Many People Have to Travel for IVF Treatment

The cost of IVF treatment in the U.S. can be prohibitive for many. But that's not the only reason some patients, including myself, are making short and long hauls for their fertility treatments.

I am not a numbers person, but let's have some fun with math. Take one 39-year-old single woman, add in eight unsuccessful intrauterine insemination treatments, deduct $12,000 in savings, insert two recommendations for IVF, factor in a 16 percent chance for success and where does that land you? At the corner of desperate and impoverished, which for me, was a block away from the Dairy Queen and down the street from a McDonald's.

It was a lonely, expensive, and high caloric corner.

My Indianapolis-based fertility clinic had just told me that with my age and my response to treatment it was time to get aggressive. Aggressive meant IVF and a price tag of upward of $21,000 for just one cycle of treatment and zero guarantee of me having a baby. Unfortunately, insurance was no help. According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, there are only 17 states in the nation that require coverage for fertility treatments, and Indiana is not one of them.

My only hope of starting a family would be an Uber ride somewhere far far away. Okay, maybe it wasn't really an Uber, but it was a pretty long car ride in a Honda Accord.

Once I had come to terms with my IVF diagnosis, and the sticker shock of local treatment, I began to look for hope outside of my own backyard. Through the power of social media and Google, I began to learn of a dedicated and mighty tribe of patients who were traveling cross-country for IVF. A good number of these travelers had ventured to New York to the Syracuse location of CNY Fertility, which promotes "making priceless affordable." With a single session of IVF starting at $3,900, CNY was offering the same services I had been quoted in Indy for a fraction of the cost. My mind was blown. After a few phone calls with CNY physicians and reference checks with other Indiana-based travel patients, I too signed on to be a long-distance patient of CNY Fertility, which keeps prices low as a personal choice.

As a road warrior patient, I underwent three IVF cycles, refinanced one house, drove over 6,440 miles, became a part-time Uber driver, missed roughly 10 days of work, made three trips to Niagara Falls, underwent weekly acupuncture, injected myself with enough needles to fill three large detergent bottles, yet spent far little to what I would have spent had I sought treatment in Indiana.

Angela Hatem
The author and her son. Courtesy of Angela Hatem

Reasons Why Patients Travel for IVF Treatment

Truth is, I was not and am not the only Accord on the baby making highway. Hopefuls across the U.S. are jumping into planes, trains, and cars for the chance to try for a baby without sacrificing care or every dollar they have earned.

According to Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, an organization dedicated to researching quality international health care, a little less than 5 percent of U.S. medical travelers are leaving the country for reproductive care and are finding significant savings by going the distance. "American patients can save 30-65 percent by crossing borders for fertility treatment, at clinics, such as Barbados Fertility Center (Barbados); BNH Hospital (Thailand); Centro Fecundar (Costa Rica); LIV Fertility Center (Mexico)," says Woodman.

Stateside, medical tourism is also on the rise, specifically at clinics which offer similar prices to the clinics found abroad with the added convenience and security of being treated at a U.S.-based clinic. In recent years, CNY Fertility has seen a remarkable surge in the travel patient sector, according to William Kiltz, CNY Fertility's communications director. "In 2015, about 20 percent of our patients came from out of state," says Kiltz. "Today over 50 percent are out of state and 5 percent come internationally. We have people who travel from Canada, India, the Philippines, Iran."

Aside from the cost savings, Kiltz attributes this growth to a couple of key factors. "We accept a lot of people that are turned away from other clinics for being too old, having a high BMI, or low AMH levels. People similarly seek us out for challenging cases involving repetitive IVF failures and recurrent pregnancy loss because of our expertise in reproductive immunology."

Do Your Homework On a Clinic Beforehand

But keep in mind: While the cost savings and access to high quality care is quite attractive for many patients, it isn't necessarily the right fit for every patient. Traveling brings an added bit of complexity to an already delicate situation. Before packing your bags, Woodman recommends doing your due diligence first. "Start researching the facility, the doctor, and the staff," he says.

And always make sure to dig deeper. Read through patient reviews and look for evidence of legal complaints. "If you see one complaint, maybe not a concern, but if you see 20 that might be a problem," says Woodman. If planning to travel internationally for treatment, take a look to see if the website is in English (if it's not, that can indicate you'll have bad communication) and see if the clinic caters to international patients by offering things like airport transport and partnerships for accommodations.

For me, the math was never simple, but it was reproductive. Add up all the miles, all the failed pregnancy tests, all the needles, each doctors visit, every tear. They all came together and equaled one healthy 9-pound, 13-ounce baby boy, and that is all that math that mattered.

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