Page 2128 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 22 June 2005

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more power than they in their party that they cannot go asking Australian women to have more children without funding the means to do so.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Minister for Health and Minister for Planning) (10.56) I rise to support the motion moved by Ms Porter. It is estimated that there have been about 60,000 children born in Australian to date as a result of in vitro fertilisation procedures. In a 2002 study of assisted reproductive technology in Australia and New Zealand, the National Perinatal Statistics Unit reported that there were 7,577 pregnancies in the 2002 cohort, resulting in 6,816 live births. The same report suggests that babies born as a result of assisted reproductive technology constitute about two per cent of all births in Australia. The ACT Chief Health Officer estimates there are about 150 IVF births in the ACT annually. This represents a significant number of individuals who would not otherwise have been born and who, in addition to bringing joy to their parents, will grow up to contribute in a variety of ways to the Canberra community.

Access to assisted reproductive technology in the ACT is currently provided through two private providers, Sydney IVF (Canberra) and the Canberra Fertility Centre. ACT Health does not provide IVF services directly. However, the department licences and conducts inspections of health care facilities, including assisted reproductive technology clinics, under the Public Health Act 1997. Equally there are no ACT legislative restrictions on access to ART, unlike the Victorian Infertility Treatment Act, which restricts access to married women and women in heterosexual de facto relationships.

Certain procedures in relation to IVF are currently rebatable through Medicare and some through private health insurance funds. Prior to November 2000 Medicare would only cover the cost of the first six IVF cycles. Currently, though, there is no limitation on the number of cycles. For people without private health insurance, the out of pocket costs, after any applicable Medicare rebates, would be approximately $1,950 to $2,050 per cycle, depending on some of the procedures involved. Variations to treatments, such as intracytoplasmic single sperm injection, embryo freezing and embryo storage all incur additional fees. Currently the costs of some assisted reproductive technology procedures can be included in the MedicarePlus safety net.

People do not embark on ART therapies lightly. In addition to significant costs, which are currently more affordable through Medicare and, in some cases, private health insurance, the procedures themselves are often uncomfortable and difficult. There is also a very real emotional burden, supported by counselling services of assisted reproductive technology providers, in completing the various treatment cycles, sometimes without success.

Australia’s birth rates, on top of that, have been declining and national fertility rates are continuing to fall. A range of commonwealth government policies and initiatives has been introduced to address Australia’s birth rate. Leading up to the federal budget there were, however, very concerning reports that the commonwealth government was considering changes to the funding of IVF services, and I know that is what prompted Ms Porter initially to move this motion.

Those changes would have limited the number of IVF cycles that receive Medicare benefits to three per year for women aged less than 42 or to just three cycles in total for women over the age of 42. Patients would then have been responsible for all costs after

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