A health ministry panel plans to limit public aid for in vitro fertilization to women up to 42 years old, given that its success rate diminishes for those approaching 40.
It also said Monday it will provide aid for only up to six treatments, compared with the current 10, as more than 90 percent of successful fertilizations come within six attempts.
For those aged 40 to 42, the upper limit is set at three treatments, as the success rate is lower for this age group. While the decision was based on clinical data, it may come under fire as demand for IVF increases amid a growing tendency to put off marriage.
As for the age limit, the panel also mulled making the treatment available for those under age 40. But it withdrew this option, given that more than 30 percent of those currently subsidized are over 40.
The new plan does not specify how many times patients can apply for the assistance within a given year. Under the current practice, they can only apply up to three times for the first year and two for the second year onward, or a maximum of 10 times in five different years.
In vitro fertilization is not covered by medical insurance.
Public aid for the treatment started in 2004 to alleviate the financial burden for those keen to undergo the treatment. The cost averages ¥300,000 each time, of which the aid covers ¥150,000.
Those who qualify for the assistance are couples whose combined annual income totals less than ¥7.3 million. In 2012, around 79,000 people received the treatment.
“Given the reality of a fertilization treatment from a medical point of view, we’ve decided it’s necessary to set the age limit for the aid and reduce the number of times patients can use it,” said Keio University professor Yasunori Yoshimura, who chaired the panel.
But he also stressed that under the envisaged plan, patients will be able to receive more intensive IVF treatments in whatever year they prefer.
“Also, for those who will not qualify for the new subsidy plan, we want to emphasize they have every right to try IVF on their own. But we also want them to be aware the older they get, the more risks there are,” he added.
A final decision will be made in August, when the panel under the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry compiles a comprehensive assistance plan for IVF.
According to the health ministry, the budget for public aid for the treatment reached ¥10.5 billion in 2012. It was about ¥2.5 billion in 2004.