Fertility benefits are key perks companies can offer in tight job market, advocates say

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When Shirley Manh and Jason Blechta decided they wanted to start having children, they didn’t expect it would take so long and cost so much.

“We never imagined that it would cost anything to conceive a child,” said Manh, 38.

The Ottawa couple estimates they’ve spent $20,000 on fertility treatments over the past year and a half, and plan to keep trying for as long as it takes.

Fortunately, Manh’s fertility drugs are covered by both workplaces’ drug plans, but the expensive procedures are not.

“Treatment costs are about on par with actual drug costs: if the cost of treatment is $20,000, the drugs cost $20,000. So it’s still a lot of money out of pocket if you’re not covered,” said Blechta, who has been keeping track of her fertility bills.

As costs rose, she began advocating for fertility benefits at work, raising the issue at quarterly all-staff meetings for the past year.

“Almost every quarter [meeting]I just raise my hand and ask, ‘What kind of coverage can we start offering for people undergoing fertility treatment?'” said Blechta, 38, who works in the Ottawa office of an international company fiber optic

Manh and Blechta are not alone in their struggles with fertility or their need for better benefits.

Companies start to join


About one in six couples in Canada experience infertility, a number that, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, has doubled since the 1980s.

For those seeking help conceiving, the cost of one round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) can run around $20,000, according to Fertility Matters Canada. Certain provinces offer coverage for IVF, but it is limited.

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The advocacy group commissioned a survey in December 2020 and found that only five per cent of employers in Canada offer coverage for both fertility drugs and procedures. The survey conducted by consulting firm Mapol Inc. assessed coverage for fertility treatments by looking at 86 Canadian employer benefit plan contracts.

But some of Canada’s largest corporations are now beginning to provide coverage for procedures like IVF, thanks to pressure from employees and a competitive job market.

Tara Wood, president of Conceivable Dreams, says the conversations she’s had with the leaders of some of Canada’s banks have paid off: four of the big five banks have recently confirmed expanding their benefits to include coverage for fertility. (Submitted by Tara Wood)

Tara Wood, President of Conceivable Dreams, has been working alongside Fertility Matters Canada to advocate for affordable fertility treatment for more than five years.

A year ago, he met with leaders from some of Canada’s Big Five banks and explained why they should offer fertility benefits to their staff.

“It’s this ‘Great Quit’ perfect storm,” Wood said, referring to an economic trend that began in 2021, in which an increasing number of workers began quitting their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m not saying it’s an easy box to check, but it is.”

By adding this benefit, they can “walk the talk when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Wood said.

There are signs that their talks have paid off: Four of the big five banks recently confirmed expanding their benefits to include coverage for fertility treatment.

“We’ve seen a variety of benefits, from $2,500 to $25,000,” Wood said. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

The bank clerk got the ball rolling

Dominic Cole-Morgan, a senior vice president at Scotiabank, said the idea to offer fertility, surrogacy and adoption benefits came from an employee who contacted his manager, who then contacted him.

“We understood that it was a stressful experience for employees, expensive, and also there were various ways that families were being created that we needed to support,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

Offering this benefit, which began on April 1, could also help the bank, Cole-Morgan admits, by helping retain and attract staff in a tight job market.

Dominic Cole-Morgan, senior vice president at Scotiabank, admits that offering fertility benefits, as well as helping employees, could also help the bank retain and attract staff in a tight job market. (Derek Hooper/CBC)

“It’s both,” he said. “Obviously, it’s important to our employees in terms of engaging them. So that’s why it’s a focus for us,” she said.

Wood, who has undergone unsuccessful fertility treatments, said she thinks what Scotiabank and other companies are offering in terms of covering the costs of the procedure is key.

“Often what we see is that employers only cover drug costs and not treatment costs,” he said. “If you’re not giving employees an integral part of those two buckets, that’s a huge disappointment.”

Insurers play a key role

Much of the reason fertility treatments aren’t covered, according to Wood, is due to insurance companies and what they offer companies in their benefits packages.

“We’d love to see them make fertility benefits part of the basic plans, an opt-out rather than an opt-in,” he said.

In May 2021, Beneplan, a Canadian health insurance cooperative, changed its standard benefits package for employers to include fertility benefits for new clients.

Existing employers can modify their coverage to add fertility benefits without affecting their premiums.

“When companies come to us to request a quote, we automatically integrate it [fertility benefits] in coverage, whether they ask for it or not,” said Yafa Sakkejha, ​​CEO of Toronto-based Beneplan.

In the world of health insurance, Sakkejha said fertility benefits are not expensive or risky to include because “they are considered non-recurring health claims” and employees are unlikely to spend money on fertility “every year of their lives.” in perpetuity.”

“I think everyone should be doing it now”

In October 2020, Sarah Abbott became pregnant after just one round of IVF and, thanks to her workplace benefits, paid less than $1,500 for everything.

The Halifax mother of 11-month-old twins is a manager at Starbucks and has worked for the company for 17 years.

In late 2018, Abbott and her husband realized they were having trouble conceiving, so she began suggesting in every employee survey that Starbucks should cover fertility treatments.

For October 2019, Starbucks enhanced its fertility benefits to include $25,000 for fertility services, an amount that has now risen to a lifetime maximum of $30,000.


Sarah Abbott, a mother of 11-month-old twins in Halifax and a manager at Starbucks, says she began suggesting in every employee survey that the company should cover fertility treatments. She upgraded her fertility benefits in October 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I like to think that asking for fertility coverage every time maybe had an impact,” said Abbott, 42.

Starbucks has come under scrutiny recently for its handling of employee unionization efforts, allegedly discouraging them from voting yes. Despite this, the company is still seen as an attractive place to work due to its competitive benefits.

“The fact that some of these companies cover it, you know, I think everyone should do it now,” Abbott said.

Ideally, advocates like Wood want to see $60,000 coverage in each plan “because that would give him two or three rounds of IVF,” he said.

But at this point, he said any coverage is moving in the right direction and praises the actions taken by people like Abbott and Jason Blechta to put pressure on their employers.

“Your human resources department needs to know that these are benefits that are important to employees before they start taking steps to adopt them,” Wood said.

On Wednesday, Shirley Manh and Blechta met with their company’s human resources department to discuss their application for fertility benefits and received a commitment that the company would move forward with the proposal for coverage of fertility procedures.

“Being promoted to vice president of human resources really shows me that they’re listening to their people,” Manh said. “In a way I’m proud of us, proud of him for starting a change like this.”

CLOCK | Arguing the fertility benefits:

Arguing the benefits of fertility

Shirley Manh describes what she told her husband’s employer about why providing fertility benefits should be important.

Big Bank Fertility Coverage

  • TD Bank: On March 1, it expanded its fertility drug coverage to include benefits for reproductive treatments and coverage for costs associated with surrogacy, donor and adoption with a $20,000 lifetime maximum for each benefit.

  • Scotiabank: On April 1, the bank began offering its Canadian employees a lifetime maximum of $10,000 which could be used for surrogacy, fertility or adoption expenses, with no annual limits. Everything from medications to egg freezing to an IVF cycle could be claimed under this coverage.

  • CIBC: On May 5, it announced enhanced fertility benefits: a lifetime maximum of $15,000 for fertility and a separate lifetime maximum of $15,000 for surrogacy expenses. Covers prescription fertility drugs and other treatments related to conception, such as IVF, intrauterine insemination, egg/sperm freezing, embryo freezing, storage fees, and genetic testing.

  • Red blood cells: In a memo to RBC employees last week, the bank said it would improve family benefits for fertility, surrogacy and adoption services in Canada from July 1. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.



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