This New Law Gives Cancer Patients Better Options For Family Planning

The choice between life-saving medical treatment and preserving fertility has to be one of the hardest decisions. But one state is working to make it a little easier, at least from a financial perspective. As the Chicago Tribune reported this week, an Illinois law has determined that the costs of egg and embryo freezing must be covered by insurance for cancer patients.

Illinois joins 15 other states that have enacted legislation to protect fertility treatments in general since the 1980s, according to the National Council of State Legislators. Thirteen states require insurers to cover the costs completely, while Texas and California require insurers to offer plans for fertility treatment, according to the NCSL. This new Illinois legislation specifically addresses the needs of patients undergoing cancer treatments that have the potential to harm fertility, according to Northwestern University. It offers increased protections against the burden of financial concerns.

Most drugs used for chemotherapy treatment can affect fertility, according to the American Cancer Society. Though factors like dosages, what drugs are used, and age can change the outcome, the ability to get pregnant and the safety of carrying a baby following treatment are big unknowns. Radiation treatment and high doses of chemo can even stop a woman’s ovaries from producing eggs, regardless of her age, as noted by the ACS.

So, the option to freeze eggs or embryos before undergoing treatment can be appealing and comforting — but the costs of the procedures are significant. The Chicago Tribune pointed out that freezing sperm can cost just a few hundred dollars, but when trying to protect eggs or embryos the costs can easily soar to $10,000 or more.

That’s because the process involves multiple steps, each of which come with big price tags. The Cut broke down the costs into three steps which are required for egg retrieval: the actual process of harvesting the eggs, drugs to stimulate ovulation, and storage fees. On top of that is the eventual cost of fertilizing and implanting the eggs. Total costs they estimate: $20,000.

Creating and preserving the embryos used for in-vitro fertilization — in which an egg is fertilized prior to freezing — can be even more expensive. Forbes reported that the cost of an IVF egg retrieval averages $12,000 across the United States. Added to that are the cost of drugs, and then eventually the transfer of the frozen embryo to the uterus. Each of those run between $3,000 and $5,000, according to Forbes. Storage of the embryo can add a few hundred up to a few thousand dollars per year, according to The Cut, depending on the facility.

But for cancer patients these procedures are vitally important for both peace of mind and the potential for childbearing. The Illinois bill was signed into law at Northwestern University’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, which is affiliated with its Oncology Consortium and programs for Fertility Preservation and Reproductive Medicine. Every young cancer patient at the hospital is sent to the Oncology Consortium where they consult with an expert about their options. One patient, Megan Connolly, spoke to Northwestern Now about her experience, telling the publication that on top of being diagnosed with "a life-threatening illness like cancer," you "also have to accept that your life-saving treatment may also leave you infertile and unable to have the option to have a biological child is overwhelmingly heartbreaking."

Connolly went on to tell Northwestern Now: "This bill will give young patients excitement for their future, knowing that because insurance was able to cover the cost of fertility preservation, their dreams of one day having a family of their own will not be taken away by cancer."

The high costs, risks, and effects of cancer treatment are enough to think about once a woman is diagnosed. Worrying about the ability to have a family should not be one more thing added to an already full plate. In Illinois at least, this new measure will help ease those concerns.