Family Matters

Are Fertility Financers Productive or Predatory?

Businesses that dole out loans to infertile couples to help them pay for treatment are springing up around the country. But in some cases, fertility doctors are part owners

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A while ago, I explored whether it’s selfish for infertile couples to pursue fertility treatments rather than adoption. Perhaps the more practical question is not adoption versus assisted reproduction, but how to pay for any of it.

In theory, making a baby is free, but couples who struggle to conceive face daunting expenses in the quest for a family. More than 7 million U.S. women and their partners, or 12% of the reproductive-age population, battle infertility, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recently, financial columnist Suzanna de Baca advised Healthland readers to think carefully before going into debt to get pregnant. With the average cost of a single IVF cycle topping $8,000 — and that’s before meds — it’s wise to figure out how to finance fertility treatments before jumping in.

A fortunate few may be the lucky recipients of a free IVF cycle, thanks to a handful of fertility clinics that give away treatment pro bono or, more controversially, hold contests for free cycles. But most women seeking help with their fertility receive nothing aside from pricey medical bills. Hence the rise of a new field of lenders: fertility financers.

(MORE: Baby Contest: Couples Compete for Free IVF — Is This Exploitation or Generosity?)

MSNBC reports that dozens of fertility finance companies are now in business. One, Capex MD, is approving $1 million dollars in loans each month. In 2012, it expects to have handed out $15 million.

In a somewhat odd twist, it turns out that the very doctors who perform the procedures might be part-owners in the loan company. That strikes me as bad precedent. After all, wouldn’t it be in the physicians’ interest to drag out treatment so that they could reap financial benefits? MSNBC spoke with Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center:

“When someone comes and says I can make this possible for you and I can make the financing possible, you really have to be a little bit careful because you’ve got vulnerable, desperate people who want to hear that there’s an answer to their prayers,” says Caplan.  “I’m worried they’re not going to hear the failure and success rate, the interest rate, and what the risks are of the treatments.”

The upsides of fertility financing, of course, are obvious. One couple welcomed twins with the help of money they borrowed. But then it’s on to the next step: paying for childhood. In June, the Department of Agriculture estimated the cost of raising a child at $234,900. With six-figure expenses on the horizon, perhaps fertility financing is the least of a couple’s economic worries.

MORE: Million-Dollar Babies: What It Really Costs to Raise a Child