Japan needs more babies, starts subsidizing costly IVF

taipeitimes.com -- Apr 02
The wait to see the doctor at Japan’s popular fertility clinic Saint Mother Hospital just got longer.

Starting yesterday, public health insurance will reimburse 70 percent of the costs of advanced fertility treatments as part of the government’s attempt to halt a decline in one of the world’s fastest-aging populations.

Atsushi Tanaka, doctor and director of Saint Mother in Kita Kyushu, southern Japan, expects more patients at his clinic, already packed with couples seeking treatments such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) which previously cost over 500,000 yen (US$4,090) per cycle — more than the average household’s monthly income.

“I think we’ll see a huge number of patients,” he said, adding that nationwide IVF attempts may even double.

Yet Tanaka and other specialists say this won’t be enough to reverse Japan’s demographic decline, with patients still facing considerable costs, and insurance coverage excluding procedures such as genetic screening and the use of donor eggs. With the number of women of child-bearing age dropping off in the coming years, they said, the government needs to do more.

Japan’s experience will serve as a test case for advanced economies facing declining birth rates. While free, or mostly free, IVF treatments are already available in a handful of countries including Denmark and France, Japan is the biggest economy to subsidize most costs for such treatments.