Super babies

An increasing number of childless couples are accessing their superannuation to pay for IVF. But what of the long-term cost? Georgia Smith reports.

For a parent, there may be nothing as special as when a child reaches a milestone. Whether it is the first step taken, riding a bike for the first time or the pride in seeing them graduate.

But what about those who have trouble starting a family? Those who, despite their efforts, cannot bring a child of their own into the world?

While IVF was once a treatment many couples thought they could not afford, an increasing number are now cashing in their superannuation to cover the cost.

But though this is an exciting concept for those pursuing IVF treatments, some caution that there may be a long-term cost to such an initiative.

Accountant David Gill warns couples to take care when accessing their superannuation early. “A risk would be using a large amount of their super to assist them with IVF costs when the purpose of super is to assist you in retirement,” Mr Gill  says.

Mr Gill knows all too well how stressful it can be when you’re trying to start a family. “I really sympathise with couples who struggle to start a family, as my wife and I had a few issues ourselves,” Mr Gill says.

He and his wife, Helen, run an accounting firm  and therefore also understand the importance of superannuation. “I support the idea if it gives couples the opportunity to have a child, however, I feel that there needs to be a monetary limit on the amount they can withdraw,” Mr Gill says.

Reproductive Medicine Albury is among the latest to have implemented schemes which allows couples the chance to access their superannuation early to fund the treatment. Clinic Manager Ann Maree Hunt, says she understands it can be contentious to allow couples to access their super for IVF treatments. “On one side people are attacking those funds for treatments that may or may not work, which can be quite negative,” Ms Hunt says.

However, she says she also sees the financial stress on couples while undergoing IVF treatments. “On the other side, there is a place for it when accessing IVF. Fertility treatments are stressful and couples are under emotional stress. It is a roller coaster of emotions.”

Ms Hunt says that a lot of couples have a misconception when it comes to IVF. Most couples think that it is going to cost them $10,000, which is not always the case. IVF treatments can cost much less and this barrier of trying to save enough money can ultimately harm a couple’s chances of having a baby. “It’s really heartbreaking when people come in and have waited and saved the $10,000, but have reduced their chances of success because of this misconception; it’s really sad.”

The chances of success decrease with age, and for many couples who wait until they have saved their money before pursuing the treatments, it can sometimes be too late. Figures show that one in nine couples will have trouble falling pregnant, according to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA). Many of these couples will not talk about the issues they are having with others, as they can feel a sense of embarrassment or shame.

Ms Hunt notes that IVF is not always the only treatment option for couples who are struggling to have a baby. Some of these treatments include insemination, ovulation monitoring and other treatments that are not as involved as IVF. “Some couples are prime candidates for these other treatments,” Ms Hunt says.

Maria Gutierrez, Program Director and IVF consultant from SuperCare, says that the scheme, which has been in place for 10 years now, has been quite successful so far. “We have had quite a number of couples pregnant from IVF cycles funded through their super, but we have also had a number of couples become pregnant naturally that have told us that it was due to less financial stress.”

Ms Gutierrez says that couples will seek out different payment options when it comes to funding IVF treatments. “Most of the couples that call SuperCare do so because they have exhausted all other financial options.” Some of these other options include credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and re-financing. “Some couples have run out of financial options and using their super allows them the opportunity to continue their IVF journey without the pressure of repayments to financial institutions, or family and friends,” Ms Gutierrez says.

Ms Gutierrez says  there are frameworks in place to stop couples from wasting too much of their money. “There are rules and regulations in place so that the risks associated with early release are well managed.” The Department of Human Services places strict conditions on who can access their super early for medical treatments.

Whether couples start a family through accessing their super early, or simply look at it as an option, Ms Gutierrez says it is a welcome development for struggling couples. “Whatever the case may be, we were pleased to be a contributing factor to the expansion of their family,” she says.