Linda Wang’s article “Struggling To Start a Family” about chemistry and infertility (C&EN, Feb. 8, page 33) resonated with me. As a female chemist in my early thirties, I am half of an infertile couple and currently pursuing assisted reproduction. Over the course of this heartbreaking journey, I could not help but ponder, “I have a disease recognized by the World Health Organization that at the highest level is the dysfunction of an entire organ system. Our underlying pathology was agreed upon by multiple doctors, and there is a well-established standard of care—assisted reproduction—that can be expected to resolve our infertility. Why doesn’t my health insurance cover that?” As such, I have approached my human resources department asking that our health insurance be expanded.
Being a scientist, I dove into research and identified a myriad of reasons that employers may choose to offer infertility coverage. Some reasons are found at the intersection of the financial and the medical: Patients with health insurance pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF) are more likely to choose an elective single-embryo transfer, a procedure that dramatically reduces the chance of a gestation of multiples and its accompanying risk of expensive complications.
Other reasons recognize the social contract between an employer and employee. Ray Brusca noted during his tenure as a vice president at Black & Decker that infertility coverage “is an employee relations issue that is a winner for us all.” Lastly, some reasons are strictly business: Many peer organizations offer health plans that cover the treatment of infertility.
Unfortunately, I also found that many employers, including mine, offer no benefit beyond “the diagnosis of infertility”—that is, they do not cover the most effective treatment of the disorder: assisted reproduction. However, I was quite heartened to find that a meaningful portion of companies across the chemical industry, such as Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Chevron, and Merck, reportedly offer some infertility coverage. Within big pharma, almost 70% of the 13 companies for which I could find detailed information offered some form of a reproductive health benefit. Generally, the benefit was limited to a lifetime maximum benefit of $10,000 to $25,000. It is reasonable to expect employers to limit their exposure to financial risk, but even a limited benefit is a huge opportunity to a devastated employee.
After having spent my twenties in subsistence living in graduate school earning my Ph.D., I find myself in my thirties trying to start saving for retirement and a home and worrying about an old car. Infertility is by its very nature a disease that strikes in the early part of one’s career. When I’m asking my employer to offer a comprehensive reproductive health benefit, I’m not asking for the moon. I’m asking for a chance.
Name withheld upon request
Thank you for the article. A challenging situation my husband and I had to deal with back in the mid-1990s. After several miscarriages, grief, testing, and repeated hormone treatments, finally a successful GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer) baby (just shy of 41). We tried unsuccessfully again. Our GIFT son is now a senior in high school! I agree the key is finding friends and coworkers you can talk to and share your challenges with; it’s an enormous, emotional roller-coaster ride! All worth it!
Joanna Hinton via Facebook
This is so important. As a scientist with a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology and an M.S. (in May) and as an advocate, I operate an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.—the DC DMV PAIL: Pregnancy & Infant Loss Network—after my only child, my daughter, was stillborn full-term due to umbilical cord compression. A huge part of our mission in the community is letting go of shame and opening up to let others know: In the U.S., there are approximately one in 160 pregnancies that end in stillbirth after 20 weeks of gestation and approximately 600,000 miscarriages annually. We must create environments for work-life balance and psychosocial support, especially if we are in a mode of encouraging and enabling more women in STEM. Every instance of interpersonal connection, like a kind word or condolence, is meaningful—even for, or especially for, those who are analytical by nature.
Heather Thompson via Facebook