Cost-of-living crisis makes it even harder for same-sex couples to access IVF

(Photo: Maskot via Getty Images/Maskot)

(Photo: Maskot via Getty Images/Maskot)

Katherine Fraioli-Harper and her wife Jayme would like to have a second child. But the rising cost of living means it is now impossible for them to save up for fertility treatment.

“I’ve broken down about it several times, because I hate the fact that money is the only thing that’s keeping us from growing our family,” says Katherine, a 38-year-old fitness instructor from Bristol. “That’s a horrible feeling.”

Same-sex couples already face more barriers to accessing IVF on the NHS than their heterosexual counterparts. While heterosexual couples are expected to try to conceive for two years before accessing NHS-funded treatment, NICE guidance states that female same-sex couples should undergo six rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI) in a fertility unit. private before being considered. They will then be offered NHS IUI (usually another six rounds), before IVF is offered. The restrictions are even more complex for same-sex male couples, where a surrogate is needed.

NICE guidance for same-sex fertility treatment is just that, guidance, with funding ultimately decided by local CCGs or clinical commission groups. Some CCGs require lesbian couples to demonstrate two rounds of IUI, but most request all six.

In the vast majority of cases, gay and lesbian couples have to pay for private treatment, and it’s not cheap.

Katherine and Jayme paid almost £18,000 to have their first child, Cillian, in December last year. To pay the bill for several cycles, they moved home, lived frugally and saved every penny of their birthday and Christmas money. They also traveled to Norway for part of their treatment, where IVF is cheaper than in the UK.

“That lasted five years, because we had to save a lot between each cycle to make the next one,” explains Katherine.

They’ve always envisioned giving Cillian a brother, but now, with food and utility bills through the roof, saving again just isn’t possible.

Katherine Fraioli-Harper and her wife, Jayme.  (Photo: Katherine and Jayme)

Katherine Fraioli-Harper and her wife, Jayme. (Photo: Katherine and Jayme)

Katherine Fraioli-Harper and her wife, Jayme. (Photo: Katherine and Jayme)

A course of treatment at a private clinic can range from around £3,500 to over £7,000, depending on the services and tests recommended.

“It’s always a kick in the teeth knowing that if we were a heterosexual couple, that wouldn’t be the case,” says Katherine. “It’s like, there’s definitely discrimination here, especially since I didn’t have any fertility issues other than not being with a male partner.”

Although Jayme has a steady job, working as a sound and lights demonstrator in a college drama department, like many of us, they’ve had to tighten budgets further as bills mount. Katherine, who is self-employed, is currently on maternity leave, but soon they will also have to pay for Cillian’s childcare.

They have enough money left over for a single round of IVF, which they will have at abc ivf, a fertility service marketed as the “most affordable” in the UK, because they eliminate “unnecessary tests and unproven add-ons”.

“If it works, great,” says Katherine. “And if it’s not, then we have to put a cap on it, because after that financially, it’s going to become completely unviable for us.”

Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of abc ivf, says the rising cost of living is putting extra stress on couples like Katherine and Jayme, when fertility treatment is already “exhausting, both emotionally and physically”.

“When you consider the added challenge of witnessing heterosexual contemporaries conceive naturally, at no cost, it can feel isolating, particularly if more than one cycle is required,” she says.

Rising costs also affect the well-being of same-sex couples who are not currently seeking fertility treatment but may want to in the future. Charlotte Summers, 25, and her girlfriend Aislinn, 26, aren’t sure they can afford a family.

“We have to ask ourselves if we want a house, a wedding or to start a family, which is a common question for most couples, but we find ourselves at a disadvantage, since the costs for us are doubled with the IVF processes,” he says. Summers. , which runs Unite UK, a platform that supports LGBTQ+ writers.

“We’re not ready now, but even looking at the process of having a child scares us. It’s annoying, but money is a factor that determines if we start a family.”

Summers works as a social media manager, while her partner is a quality engineer. After seven years together, she says they are “about 40% ready to have kids.” But the couple, who live in Birmingham, have already had to move house to cope with cost-of-living increases.

“At the beginning of the year we were in a position where the rent was too high, so we had to move, and while we’re very happy in our new apartment, it’s not a forever home,” says Summer. “I guess our main concern would be where to settle down and, if things continue to improve, could we afford the ideal ‘family home’?”

Charlotte Summers (left) and her partner Aislinn.  (Photo: Charlotte Summers)

Charlotte Summers (left) and her partner Aislinn. (Photo: Charlotte Summers)

Charlotte Summers (left) and her partner Aislinn. (Photo: Charlotte Summers)

There are some organizations and individuals that work to make things easier for same-sex couples. Digital health company Hertility, which offers in-home fertility tests in a bid to cut clinic costs, has launched an initiative calling out inequalities. Their campaign, #TheFertilityQUEERy, seeks to highlight the barriers same-sex couples face while providing information to help them navigate the system.

And in November 2020, influencers Whitney and Megan Bacon-Evans (who use @whatwegandidnext on social media) took legal action against their local CCG to challenge discrimination regarding NHS fertility treatment.

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, they say it is “even more pressing” that this be addressed. “Couples already had to choose between saving for a wedding, a house or having a baby, or being able to afford a family,” the couple tell HuffPost UK in a joint email.

“Now, with the rising cost of living, it will be even more difficult and many will have to skimp even more on food, gasoline, gas and electricity and even go without to save for a family or ultimately never have his dreams fulfilled.”

Whitney and Megan’s legal battle is ongoing and could mark a major test of the NHS’s readiness for LGBTQ+ families. Meanwhile, Professor Nargund says immediate steps must be taken to help gay couples access treatment.

“In the first instance, there needs to be a conversation about workplace policy that allows same-sex couples to seek fertility treatment affordably, without risking workplace stigmatization due to dating and possible side effects,” he says.

“To make things better, tThe government can put a cap on the price of IVF and implement a national fee to allow more cycles to be financed within the existing budget.”

HuffPost UK previously contacted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) regarding the so-called “gay tax” on fertility treatment. A spokesman said the level of provision available is “a matter for local health commissioners”.

“We are clear that there must be equal access across England, and that clinic start-up groups must commission fertility services in accordance with NICE fertility guidelines. These state that same-sex female couples are entitled to NHS IVF services if they have proven clinical infertility,” they said.

But unless access policies change or treatment costs are reduced, some same-sex couples will be forced to change major life plans.

“I definitely always planned on having two kids and I would definitely still love to have two kids,” says Katherine. “But the rising cost of living will affect our ability to grow our family.

“If the one round of IVF we’ve already saved for doesn’t work out, it will be exceptionally difficult for us to save the money needed for other rounds. It makes me feel very, very sad.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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