Women electing to freeze their eggs without a medical reason should receive some level of financial support through Medicare or private health insurance, according to respondents of a Monash University-led study.
More than two-thirds of the 656 Victorian women surveyed supported funding support for non-medical egg freezing, which can cost up to $10,000 per cycle.
A third supported partial public funding, a quarter through private health insurance and six per cent supported full public funding.
Currently, women seeking egg freezing are eligible for rebates via Medicare if they have a medical condition that affects their fertility, however, this usually only covers 50 per cent of total costs.
The survey findings were outlined in the paper Financing future fertility: women’s views on funding egg freezing, published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine & Society Online.
The study was led by Dr Molly Johnston from the Monash Bioethics Centre in the Faculty of Arts alongside researchers from Monash’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and Barwon Health.
Dr Johnston also found 46 per cent of respondents supported medical egg freezing to be completely funded through the public system, and participants showed greater support for payment split between the public system and private health insurance than between the public system and the individual.
“The cost of egg freezing is significant, often prohibitively high, which is a barrier to access,” Dr Johnston said. “Given the recent technological advancements and rising demands for egg freezing, it makes sense to reassess how it is funded.
“This study shows that some women think that both medical and non-medical egg freezing warrants financial support through Medicare, which challenges the use of the medical / non-medical distinction as a criterion for allocating funding.”
The median age of participants in the study was 28 years and three-quarters did not have children.
In the past, egg freezing was offered to women who faced premature infertility as a result of illness such as endometriosis or premature ovarian insufficiency, or medical treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer.
Researchers noted demand for non-medical egg freezing has increased significantly in the past decade, a preemptive measure to increase women’s chances of conceiving later in life when their fertility may be compromised due to age-related decline.
The most commonly reported reason for undertaking non-medical egg freezing is not having a suitable partner to have children with.
Dr Johnston said the survey results also raised questions about the cost-effectiveness of funding egg freezing, with emerging data indicating many women who freeze their eggs don’t require them to conceive later in life.
Respondents were asked what they would do if they had undergone egg freezing and were faced with a decision of what to do with surplus eggs, with a high proportion indicating they would consider donating them to research, a known recipient or donor program.
“If some women freeze their eggs but never use them, there could be tangible benefits to society if they are donated,” Dr Johnston said.
Researchers said further investigation and discussion was needed ahead of expanding funding to include non-medical egg freezing.
“This research raises important questions about who should be able to access egg freezing and the findings do not reflect the current funding scheme operating in Australia,” Dr Johnston said.
“There is a discrepancy between public funding for medical and non-medical egg freezing, but it is clear that egg freezing can provide individual benefits, and if surplus eggs were donated, it could benefit the broader community.
“Since affordability is a significant determinant of accessibility, care is needed to develop policies that promote equity of access.”