Classist overtones in the reporting of bulk-billed IVF treatment

A human oocyte is held by a glass holding pipette (left). A beveled glass pipette containing an immobilized ejaculated spermatozoon is inserted through the zona pellucida and deep into the oolemma, creating a deep furrow. Once the membrane of the oocyte is penetrated, the sperm is deposited therein.

Image of human oocyte being injected with human spermatozoa during IVF treatment.

Today’s ABC article about the new Primary IVF clinic, open in Melbourne from today, is a little problematic.

Not the broad subject of the article itself: Primary IVF has been operating in Sydney since 2014, has opened from today in Melbourne. It bulk bills and, personally, I think that’s great.

But the tone of the first part of the article, referring to concerns that women might not get the best treatment – with the inference that only those who can pay full freight for private treatment – smells a little off to me.

Now, the article does refer to some evidence which might form the basis for concerns.

And, to be fair, here is some of the media from when it started up in the Emerald City.

The lower priority given to these apparent concerns in the media coverage last year could mean that the evidence from the Sydney clinic does in fact support the concerns.

Or it could mean that different PR approaches are being used by relevant stakeholders. So we are back to my problems with the tone.

The article does also note that Primary IVF has not released its success rates for its Sydney clinic, which means it is difficult to get at the underlying numbers. However, the word “mystery” is used in this regard in the article and this, together with the framing of this section as a whole, comes across as quite negative – despite the fact that Primary IVF has no obligation to release its data and I can think of a number of very good reasons it might choose not to do so.

And similarly: the last part of the article is positive – but it is the last part of the article.

So, reading the article, I was left with the overall impression that the author of the article is not a fan of Primary IVF, or the fact it has opened a new clinic in Melbourne, and I was also left with the impression that the main reason for this is that infertile people might get – wait for it – bulk billed treatment.

Now let me take you back to the AFR article from last year (link again) in which it is stated that the cost of IVF in Australia is considerably higher than elsewhere in the world.

No mention of that in this ABC article.

And that, for me, contributes to the overall impression that someone, somewhere, is maybe suggesting that access to IVF treatment should only be available to those who can pay.

Which seems classist to me.

Cross-posted.

Image description: A human oocyte is held by a glass holding pipette (left). A beveled glass pipette containing an immobilized ejaculated spermatozoon is inserted through the zona pellucida and deep into the oolemma, creating a deep furrow. Once the membrane of the oocyte is penetrated, the sperm is deposited therein.
Image shared pursuant to Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. Image originally uploaded by Eermolovich.



Categories: health, media, medicine

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4 replies

  1. As well as being classist, the article fails to mention that there are very different success rates between IVF clinics that are NOT bulk-billed.

  2. I would think that for many couples seeking treatment that any chance of falling pregnant via IVF would be better than no chance because they can’t afford the fees.

  3. elaine and Mindy: IKR!!!

    To be fair, one of the Concerns expressed is not about success rates but side effects of treatment (the Concern being the allegation that this is occurring at a higher rate at Primary than other clinics).

    And look, if it’s true that patients are experiencing higher rates of nasty side effects, that’s a fair concern.

    Similarly, while I agree with Mindy’s point that a low but affordable chance of success is better than no affordable chance at all, there is a question of the use of public funds there.

    That said, so much of medicine is a guessing game, and on the basis of the bulk billing rates quoted in the media reports I linked, I’m not sure this is a hugely expensive treatment from the public purse point of view.

    This is why this kind of reporting frustrates me so much. The KINDS of concerns are, broadly, valid. Great, let’s have an evidence-based discussion. The problem is, we never seem to get to that second step.

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