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Stanford University School of Medicine

Fertility treatment for cancer patients: Should insurers pay?

background-1747790_1280As reported recently by Kaiser Health News, a growing chorus of cancer patients, physicians, politicians and health non-profits are calling for insurers to pay for fertility treatment for cancer patients.

Cancer therapies, including radiation and chemotherapy, can permanently harm reproductive organs. Yet the effects of treatment on fertility are often overshadowed by the more immediate need to combat the cancer itself and some insurers view fertility procedures as non-essential.

Surprisingly, as the article points out, some doctors even shy away from discussing the fertility risks of therapy, in part because of the high costs of common fertility procedures such as freezing eggs, sperm or embryos. In the piece, Alison Loren, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, weighs in:

[She] noted that insurers have no problem paying for wigs when patients lose their hair, or for implants when patients need breast tissue removed.

'Those are well-recognized complications of cancer therapy,' said Loren, who treats patients with leukemia and does bone marrow transplants. 'So is fertility, and it should be covered.'

“[Fertility treatment] is not cheap for anybody, but for a young adult this is really tough,” noted Pam Simon, a nurse practitioner and program manager at the Stanford Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program, in the article. “They have just started their career and cancer has thrown a big wrench into that. Not having this covered is a big deal.”

States including California, New York, Hawaii and Connecticut have taken steps toward forcing insurers to pay. Yet major obstacles remain -- including timing.

"There is a lot of uncertainty in our health care system right now and we shouldn’t be adding costs until we know more about the changes that are coming our way," Nicole Kasabian Evans, a spokesperson for the California Association of Health Plans, commented.

In the meantime, non-profit groups including the Livestrong Foundation and Alliance for Fertility Preservation are taking steps to help patients pay and to keep the issue front and center.

Previously: A cure is not enough for young cancer survivorsA cancer survivor discusses the importance of considering fertility preservation prior to treatmentAn in-depth look at fertility and cancer survivorship and Study highlights fertility-related concerns of young cancer survivors
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