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News / Nation & World

Federal workers gain IVF benefits

Government joins ranks of companies with fertility perks

By Michelle Andrews, KFF Health News
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:00am

Companies have increasingly offered generous fertility benefits to attract and keep top-notch workers. Now, the federal government is getting in on the act. Starting this year, federal employees can choose plans that cover several fertility services, including up to $25,000 annually for in vitro fertilization procedures and up to three artificial insemination cycles each year.

With about 2.1 million civilian employees, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer. Now, just as businesses of every stripe prioritize fertility benefits, in vitro fertilization — a procedure in use for more than 40 years — has become a tricky topic for some anti-abortion Republican members of Congress and even presidential candidates.

It was inevitable that disagreements over IVF among abortion opponents would eventually break into the open, said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian and expert on reproductive health.

“The anti-abortion movement from the 1960s onward has been a fetal personhood movement,” said Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California-Davis. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, anti-abortion groups and the Republican Party are grappling with what “fetal personhood” means and how that fits into their position on IVF and other technologies that help people have babies.

The Alabama Supreme Court set the stage for the recent brouhaha with a ruling last month that frozen embryos created through IVF are children under state law. A pair of Democratic senators advanced legislation that would override state laws by establishing a statutory right to access IVF and other such technologies. The bill was blocked on the Senate floor by a Republican opponent.

These events highlight the tough spot in which Republicans find themselves. Many support IVF, and they are keenly aware that it’s extremely popular: 86 percent of adults in a recent CBS News-YouGov poll said IVF should be legal. The outcry over the Alabama ruling and Republicans’ inability to coalesce around a federal response, however, has exposed fault lines in the party.

Some anti-abortion groups have strenuously objected to measures like that Senate bill, arguing that lawmakers must balance IVF with the responsibility to respect life.

About 10 percent of women and men face fertility problems, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. IVF, a process in which an egg is fertilized in a laboratory and later implanted in the uterus, is among the most expensive fertility treatments, costing about $20,000 for one round. Even with insurance coverage, the procedure is pricey, but for some people it’s the only way to conceive.

In recent years, the number of companies offering fertility benefits to employees has grown steadily. In the early 2000s, fewer than a quarter of employers with at least 500 workers covered IVF, according to benefits consultant Mercer’s annual employer survey. In 2023, that figure had roughly doubled, to 45 percent. Employers typically cap IVF benefits.