Tasha is 32, single, has a job she loves as a music publicist, and wants to freeze her eggs. She hasn’t been in a serious relationship in a couple of years, but she does hope to have kids someday — it’s just not realistic right now. She works a ton and travels often, and she’s in no position to raise a child on her own. She also doesn’t want to be someone who’s dating with a clock ticking — she’s seen how that can go (her older sister was obsessed with being a mom, and now has two young kids and is divorced). Still, freezing her eggs will be a major stretch, financially. She doesn’t have much in savings, let alone an extra $15,000 in the bank. And is that actually what it costs? She’s heard that there can be complications that drive up the price along the way. She’s also heard of cheaper clinics — but what’s the risk of going to one of those? Are there ways to pay to freeze her eggs that will make it accessible to her?
Last year, my friend Meredith, 33, got out of a long-term relationship and panicked. “I suddenly became aware that time was passing,” she says. “When I started dating again, I was too eager to settle down and I tried really hard to make things work with a guy who obviously wasn’t the right fit. When realized what I was doing, I broke up with him right away and made an appointment to see about freezing my eggs.”
How she’d afford it was less clear. While demand for egg freezing has grown dramatically since 2012, when the American Society of Reproductive Medicine removed its “experimental” label and deemed the technique effective and safe, the price of the procedure has barely budged, and usually still runs into the five digits. According to Dr. James Grifo, the director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at NYU Langone Health, that’s because there simply isn’t much wiggle room with cost. “If you’re going to do it right, it’s expensive,” he says. “We have to cover rent for lab space, all the equipment, the lab specialists, ultrasounds, and medical staff who are knowledgeable and experienced in this field. There’s too much involved to be cheap.”
Meredith has a good job, but like most people, she didn’t have $9,500 lying around — which is what her procedure cost, including related medication and a year of storage. And for the record, she got a good deal: Even in an increasingly competitive market, bills typically fall between about $7,000 and $12,000 for a single round of retrieval, plus the cost of hormonal drugs necessary for stimulating ovulation before the procedure — an additional $2,000 to $6,000, according to Dr. Grifo. Then there are storage fees to keep your eggs safely frozen, which can be anywhere from $350 for a long-term plan to $1,500 annually. And finally, there’s the cost of fertilizing and implanting them. Should you wind up using those eggs in the future, making babies out of them will take another $5,000 or more. In summary, that’s four categories of expenses to think about: medical care, medicine, storage, and IVF. Best-case scenario, you’re probably looking at about $20,000.
Meredith’s health insurance was no help, which is par for the course. Although some plans provide partial coverage for infertility treatments like IVF, most only do so after a woman has actively tried and failed to get pregnant for a specific period of time. The only exception is when a medical condition poses a direct threat to your reproductive system, in which case you may be eligible for coverage (my friend Evelyn was able to get partially reimbursed for egg freezing after she lost an ovary to a borderline cancerous tumor last spring, but that’s not much of a silver lining). You may have heard that companies like Apple and Facebook have quite famously started covering elective egg freezing as a benefit option (more on that in a minute), but it’s still rare.
The irony of saving up for the procedure like a responsible adult is that the longer you wait, the less likely it’ll be worth your money. “With baby rates, the single most important determinant of success is the age of the woman when she freezes the eggs,” says Dr. Grifo. “A 30-year-old who freezes her eggs can expect about a 55 to 60 percent chance of a baby, whereas a 40-year-old who freezes eggs can expect about a 25 percent chance.” While no one disputes the age correlation, the “success rate” data varies quite a bit; the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology pegs it between 16.5 and 33.9 percent for women under the age of 42.
If you still want to go through with it, it might be best to freeze now and pay when you can. That’s why a lot of clinics are now offering payment plans for people who can’t pay the lump sum up front. Meredith financed her procedure through ARC Fertility, which was recommended by her doctor and provides loans specifically for egg freezing and IVF. She forked over a chunk of the cost up front, but financed the majority of it and makes manageable monthly payments. “It’s like paying for a car,” she says.
As the procedure becomes more mainstream, businesses will inevitably seek ways to slash prices. Recently, a new breed of fertility clinic, such as New York’s Extend Fertility, has managed to cut operating costs by specializing strictly in freezing eggs, thereby taking pricier treatments — such as in vitro fertilization — off the table. Extend advertises an “all-inclusive” rate of $4,990, but as usual, this does not include medication or storage fees. Dr. Grifo points out that facilities like these can save you cash in the short term, but not necessarily the back end, should you decide to use those eggs someday — transporting them to another facility that’s equipped to fertilize and implant them will cost several hundred dollars at least. (Not to mention the actual IVF procedure, which will cost another $5,000, minimum.)
As for other surprise costs: It’s all about the drugs. The price of the medication is staggering, as well as something of a wild card. “How much medication the patient needs is dependent on her ovarian reserve and other parameters,” Dr. Grifo explains. Both Meredith and Evelyn wound up needing a “boost” of hormones midway through the process, which neither expected. “I knew it was a possibility, but I was still caught off guard,” says Meredith. “Apparently my eggs weren’t maturing quickly enough, and at that point, I felt like I had no choice — either throw out all this money that I’d already spent, or shell out for more medicine, which literally cost thousands.”
And after all that, a single procedure might not yield the number of eggs that you want. Most doctors recommend freezing between 12 and 30 eggs, which may require more than one cycle of ovulation; some clinics will offer discounted rates on second and third cycles, but you’re still looking at more batches of medication (i.e., thousands more dollars). Wherever you choose to do it, make sure to ask about pricing for subsequent cycles, as well as any other non-included costs that may come up. (For example, anesthesia for the actual retrieval procedure is usually extra, and runs in the neighborhood of $500 to $1,500.)
One encouraging piece of news for those who hope to have more accessibility to affordable fertility options: Health-care companies like Progyny, which designs fertility-benefits packages for employers, are helping large companies open their minds — and wallets — to cover egg freezing for their employees the same way they would any other health procedure.“If you’re going to spend money on infertility, which deserves to be covered, then you should get the best value for your money, which is measured by good clinical outcomes,” says Progyny CEO David Schlanger. “That’s one reason why many employers are deciding to cover egg freezing as a preventative procedure. Another is that infertility can cause a great deal of stress, especially when it’s compounded with financial concerns, and employers know that stress in the workplace is not a good thing. When the cost of freezing eggs is covered, it can help take some of that stress off.”
Indeed, peace of mind might be what you’re actually paying for. The whole process is so new that the vast majority of women who have banked their eggs (well over 90 percent, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Human Reproduction) haven’t touched them yet. And perhaps they never will — which certainly isn’t a bad thing. “It’s much cheaper, and more fun, to have kids the natural way,” says Evelyn. “I think what you’re really paying for is the feeling that you’ve tried. You’ll know you did everything in your power to have a child.”