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Georgina M Chambers, Van Phuong Hoang, Rong Zhu and Peter J Illingworth contributed equally to this work.
Dr Georgina M Chambers is an Australian Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Industry). Grant No: LP100200165. Principle Organisation: Australian Government, Australian Research Council (ARC). Partner Organisations: IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group. Mr Van Phuong Hoang is currently employed as an Economics Research Officer on the same Grant. Dr Rong Zhu was employed as a Economics Research Officer on the same grant during the initial analysis period, and is now employed by Flinders University as an Economics Research Fellow. Associate Professor Peter J Illingworth is Medical Director of IVFAustralia and a shareholder of Virtus Health (IVFAustralia is part of the Virtus Health Network).
GMC was responsible for the study concept and design, data acquisition, methods development, and drafting a revising the manuscript. VPH participated in the methods development, data analysis and interpretation, and drafting the manuscript. RZ participated in the methods development, data analysis and interpretation, and drafting the manuscript. PJI participated in the study concept and design, interpretation of results and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Almost all assisted reproductive technology (ART) and intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments performed in Australia are subsidized through the Australian Government’s universal insurance scheme, Medicare. In 2010 restrictions on the amount Medicare paid in benefits for these treatments were introduced, increasing patient out-of-pocket payments for fresh and frozen embryo ART cycles and IUI. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the policy on access to treatment, savings in Medicare benefits and the number of ART conceived children not born.
Pooled quarterly cross-sectional Medicare data from 2007 and 2011 where used to construct a series of Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression models to evaluate the impact of the policy on access to treatment by women of different ages. Government savings in the 12 months after the policy was calculated as the difference between the predicted and observed Medicare benefits paid.
After controlling for underlying time trends and unobserved factors the policy change reduced the number of fresh embryo cycles by almost 8600 cycles over 12 months (a 16% reduction in cycles, p < 0.001). The policy effect was greatest on women aged 40 years and older (38% reduction in cycles, p < 0.001). Younger women engaged in relatively more anticipatory behaviour by bringing forward their fresh cycles to 2009. Frozen embryo cycles, which are approximately one quarter of the cost of a fresh cycle, were only marginally impacted by the policy. Utilisation of IUI cycles were not impacted by the policy. After adjusting for anticipatory behaviour, $76 million in Medicare benefits was saved in the 12 months after the policy change (0.47% of annual Medicare benefits). Between 1200 and 1500 ART conceived children were not born in 2010 as a consequence of the policy.
The introduction of the policy resulted in a significant reduction in fresh ART cycles in the first 15 months after its introduction. Further evaluation on the long term impact of the policy with regard access to treatment and on clinical practice, particularly the number of embryos transferred, is crucial to ensuring equitable access to fertility treatment and the health and welfare of ART children.