Published On: Thu, Nov 23rd, 2023
World | By MDN

More Canadian companies are offering fertility benefits, but is it enough? 

More Canadian companies are offering fertility benefits, but is it enough? 
More Canadian companies are offering fertility benefits, but is it enough? 

After more than three years of fertility treatments and a miscarriage, Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich and her partner are excited to welcome their first child.

Her wife Katy got pregnant after undergoing an intrauterine insemination (IUI) – where the sperm is placed directly into the uterus with the help of a donor sperm. She is now due in April.

The same-sex couple from Ottawa has had to jump through several hoops and face disappointment to get to this stage.

It has also been an expensive journey, costing them close to $25,000.

“We started our first treatment in September 2020, so it’s been a very long road that was delayed because of COVID anyway,” Geiger-Bardswich, 37, told Global News.

While all of their IUI and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles have been funded by Ontario’s OHIP coverage, they have had to pay out-out-pocket for the sperm and drugs. Neither get any fertility benefits from their work.

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“My employer would be very open to providing this, I think if they could,” said Geiger-Bardswich, who works for a national non-profit. “It’s more that the insurance company doesn’t.”

Ottawa resident Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich pictured here on the right with her wife Katy.

Photo supplied

In Canada, like the United States, a growing number of companies are introducing or expanding fertility benefits for their employees. Canada’s five big banks are among them.

Starting this year, CIBC added coverage for adoption services — worth a lifetime maximum of $15,000 — to its existing suite of fertility benefits.

The Bank of Montreal also expanded its fertility offerings to include surrogacy and adoption assistance in the benefits plan for all employees that came into effect January 1, 2023, Jeff Scott, BMO’s head of benefits and wellness, told Global News.

Meanwhile, Scotiabank is currently reviewing its existing fertility benefits in Canada that were introduced last year and include a $10,000 lifetime maximum each for fertility treatment, adoption, and surrogacy support, Tony Cimino, senior vice president, Total Rewards at Scotiabank, told Global News.

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The Royal Bank of Canada, which has covered fertility drugs since 2004, enhanced their coverage in July 2022 to a maximum of $20,000 each for medicine and treatments.

The bank also offers lifetime surrogacy and adoption coverage of up to $20,000, said Jamie Abbott, RBC’s senior director of North American Benefits and Global Wellbeing.

Click to play video: 'More IVF babies born after summer egg collection: study'

More IVF babies born after summer egg collection: study

Despite the progress, a new survey shows more than half of Canadian employers still do not offer fertility benefits, and those that do cover less than two per cent of both drugs and treatment costs such as IVF procedures, sperm, eggs, and testing.

The survey commissioned by Organon Canada and conducted by Mapol Inc. also found that the average lifetime coverage limit coverage limit for fertility drugs in Canada is now $6,000, which is a “drop in the bucket,” given how expensive these treatments can be, said Carolynn Dubé, executive director with Fertility Matters Canada.

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“We have seen over the past two years more and more companies coming to the table with inclusive fertility and family planning benefits,” she told Global News in an interview.

But the progress has been slow and limited mostly to drug coverage, which is a “small piece of the pie,” Dubé said.

She said companies should also consider increasing coverage for fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, fertility preservation and donations of eggs, sperm or embryo.

Coverage for fertility treatments — such as IUI, IVF and egg freezing, varies across Canada — with seven provinces offering some form of financial assistance. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the territories currently don’t cover fertility treatments.

Click to play video: 'Infertility: Shedding light on a common problem'

Infertility: Shedding light on a common problem

Gibson Energy, a mid-size Alberta-based company, implemented its family building benefit program last year, which includes a total coverage worth $35,000 per employee for fertility drugs, services, surrogacy and adoption.

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The plan bodes well for job satisfaction and motivating the company’s 500 employees while also attracting new hires, said Riccardo Silvestro, director of total rewards and HR systems at Gibson Energy.

“From an attraction or retention standpoint, I think it was received very well from the perspective of being an employer that is recognizing these challenges and supporting individuals that are wanting to pursue these opportunities,” he told Global News in an interview.

Canada is already considered a low-fertility country and its fertility rate has been declining over the past decade.

The number of babies born in Canada dropped to a 17-year-low last year and its fertility rate has been declining, according to Statistics Canada.

In 2022, the country saw its sharpest drop in births registered since 2005 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, StatCan said in a report published in September.

On top of that, Canada’s labour market is “softening,” with October marking the fourth time in six months the unemployment rate went up, according to the country’s latest job report released earlier this month.

Click to play video: 'Rising infertility rates leading to increasing demand for the business of ‘egg freezing’'

Rising infertility rates leading to increasing demand for the business of ‘egg freezing’

A “full spectrum of offerings” when it comes to family building benefits could help to attract and retain young talent, Dubé says.

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“Our economic output of a country is significantly tied to the fertility rate or birth rate – and so as a country, we also need to consider what does that mean for the future of the people who are going to be working these jobs if we’re not replacing our population,” Dubé said.

Geiger-Bardswich is grateful that Ontario offers IUI and IVF coverage, but she is hoping for more support from the both the government and the private sector.

The couple still has two embryos frozen in case they decide to have a second child.

“We’re paying $500 a year to the fertility clinic to keep those embryos on ice and then once we decide to go use them, I would be paying again for the medications and for all of that to transfer,” Geiger-Bardswich said.

“It would be better to have more support for more families to have the kids that they want.”

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