Pros and Cons of Insurance Coverage for Egg-Freezing

The Benefits (and Potential Problems) for Women

Woman standing against wall with arrows pointing in opposite directions, one says work, other says home
Balancing work and family isn't easy. Egg-freezing may seem like a good way to delay parenthood, but it's neither risk-free nor guaranteed. Suchota / Getty Images
In This Article

Numerous prominent tech companies, including Facebook, Apple, and Google, now offer egg freezing insurance benefits to their female employees (and the female spouses of their employees). Many women, particularly those who are interested in extending their fertility, wonder how egg freezing works and if it's worthwhile. Also, could companies who offer this have ulterior motives?

Overview

These are just a few of the considerations to weigh when thinking about social egg freezing or the practice of freezing eggs for non-medical purposes, which include fertility preservation and/or delaying motherhood. Doctors call this procedure planned oocyte cryopreservation or planned OC.

Egg freezing was once considered experimental and reserved only for those going through cancer treatment. However, as of several years ago, it’s no longer considered experimental and is currently – theoretically, anyway – available to all women.

When It's Typically Used

Egg freezing is often standard practice before potentially fertility-damaging cancer treatments in order to give these women a better chance of conceiving later. In this circumstance, the procedure is often covered by insurance. Although just like with social egg freezing, the odds of success are not great.

Insurance for Fertility Treatments

Getting insurance plans to cover fertility treatments has been a major goal of fertility advocates worldwide. Coverage varies depending on where you live, your employer, your local laws, and the insurance plan you choose—and can afford. The majority of Americans do not have coverage for the more expensive fertility treatments, like IVF. Some plans don't even cover basic fertility testing.

Now, some high profile companies are offering or are about to offer egg freezing benefits as an added insurance perk to draw in top talent. Below, we delve into the pros and cons of this emerging medical technology as an insurance benefit.

Pros and Cons

Consider this brief snapshot of potential benefits and drawbacks of insurance for egg freezing.

Pros
  • Increases coverage choices for women

  • Provides women more childbearing options

  • Puts decision-making power in the woman's hands

Cons
  • It's expensive

  • May put pressure on women to delay having children

  • The procedure might not work

  • Unknown long-term impact

  • Women who want children may miss their fertility window

Benefits of This Insurance Perk

In general, expanded insurance coverage and more reproductive options is a good thing. And kudos to the companies who are offering these perks. Plus, providing this insurance benefit speaks to the increasing value and power women have in the marketplace as companies are coming up with insurance perks tailored specifically to appeal to them.

Egg freezing offers the possibility of extending fertility and may aid some women in having children later in life. Some women in their 40s and beyond have used this technology to bear children. However, data is sparse and the best outcomes are with women whose eggs were frozen in their 20s. Even then, success rates for viable pregnancies are quite low.

What the Experts Say

While the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) cautions against the widespread use of this technology to delay motherhood, the group deems the procedure "ethically permissible."

This technology could help some women have children later in life who otherwise wouldn't be able to do so—but results are far from encouraging and in no way guarantee getting pregnant.

With that said, neither the ARSM, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), nor any other major medical organization has come out fully against egg freezing to delay childbearing. Case in point, plenty of ASRM and ACOG members offer social egg freezing services.

Corporate Perspective

Given this, corporations should have no qualms with offering egg freezing as part of their benefits packages—and the greater choice this insurance perk gives women can be seen positively. However, the key is that women are fully informed about the efficacy and risks of the procedure.

Expanding Fertility Coverage

Another potential benefit to egg freezing insurance coverage is increased competition and the expansion of what is covered by employers. By offering egg freezing, these companies have essentially raised the bar on what’s considered good coverage in women’s health plans.

Perhaps this new trend of offering egg freezing benefits may encourage more corporations and insurance plans to offer expanded fertility coverage. For example, this might translate to more women having affordable access to more mainstream (and proven) fertility treatments like IVF.

Potential Drawbacks

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine does not oppose this emerging practice. However, the medical organization warns that "marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing."

In other words, the fear of embracing planned OC is that women who are fertile in their 30s may put off trying to have children for a decade or more, pushing it off to a time when they are infertile, under the assumption that egg freezing will give them a very good chance of conceiving later in life. Unfortunately, that assumption is just not valid for many women—and these women could end up childless.

The potential drawbacks of planned OC can be summed up as issues of efficacy, affordability, informed consent, and long-term impact on babies born using this technology.

Misinformation

Before you get too excited about the potential of this procedure to extend your fertility, review these key facts:

  • Egg freezing is not risk-free.
  • Egg freezing does not guarantee you’ll be able to have babies later in life.
  • Neither the American Society of Reproductive Medicine nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women use this technology for the sole purpose of putting off childbearing.

(See more detail on the above considerations further below.)

Poor Success Rates

Current statistics show that most women (well over half) who try to get pregnant using frozen eggs do not end up with a baby. Actually, the vast majority don't even try. In fact, research shows that most women that freeze their eggs do not go on to use them. Instead, they might get pregnant the old-fashioned way, use other fertility treatments, adopt, or choose not to have kids.

If you know you want kids, banking on using this technology in your late 30s and beyond is very risky. There is a better chance that it won't result in a baby than that it will.

The bottom line is that most fertility specialists don’t think egg freezing should be offered as “insurance” against ticking biological clocks, with the exception of special cases. Even in the best of situations – which would require eggs that were frozen during your 20s—the odds of conceiving and giving birth with those thawed eggs later is around 30% or lower.

Potentially Biased Information

Of course, women can and should research their options and make the final decision. But it's important to consider where information is coming from and the sources' possible biases. For example, if you ask a doctor about the procedure who is marketing egg freezing as “insurance” against age-related infertility, you'll likely get a much more positive perspective than if you ask a doctor who's against to it.

This issue of mixed information and the possible absence of truly informed consent is another big downside to egg freezing perks. After all, with the price tag that can quickly go over $20,000, most women wouldn’t consider egg freezing if they had to pay out-of-pocket, particularly if they fully understood the low success rates of the procedure.

Corporate Motivations

Another possible negative consequence of this insurance perk is the pressure it may put on some women to forgo having children during their most fertile years. Certainly, if some of their female employees delay motherhood, this could benefit a business financially, by retaining talent and putting off maternity leave costs.

In a similar vein, offering mental health days and robust health plans can also save companies money—but these benefits are still positives for employees. Businesses routinely consider their bottom line when determining which benefits to offer.

Postponing Motherhood

However, some people may interpret the message of this insurance perk as encouraging female employees to delay having kids rather than simply offering them the potential option to do so. Some may women feel pressure—real or imagined—to freeze their eggs instead of trying to have a family now or soon. They may also worry that their managers expect them to delay childbearing in favor of work.

However, it's likely overreaching to read anything sinister into these companies' motives beyond just offering ultra-competitive perks to attract top talent.

Important Considerations

If you work for a company that offers egg freezing in their insurance plans, consider the following before trying the procedure:

It’s Not Risk-Free

Fertility drugs and treatments are not risk-free. In very rare cases, adverse effects of fertility treatment can lead to loss of fertility and even death. Catastrophic results are extremely unusual but can and do happen. A much more likely risk, if you choose to use your frozen eggs in the future, is having multiples or not getting pregnant at all. Fertility treatment can also be very emotionally taxing.

Egg Freezing Is Not Guaranteed

Even if you freeze 20 eggs, you have no assurance that any of those eggs will survive the thaw, get fertilized and become embryos, and lead to a pregnancy. If you’re already past your prime fertility, and your frozen eggs don’t deliver, you may have to go straight to an egg donor. If you were younger, assuming all things are normal, you’d have many more options, including conception without fertility drugs.

Know What’s Covered and What’s Not

Egg freezing is expensive and involves ongoing costs, including the medications, monitoring, retrieval, and yearly storage fees. When/if you’re ready to use your eggs, you’ll need to pay for thawing, fertilization, and the embryo transfer, and possibly, more medications. Find out what your company will cover and what they won’t. It may not be (and probably isn’t) totally covered.

Embryos Freeze Better Than Eggs

If you've found your lifelong partner, freeze embryos—not eggs. Egg freezing as a means of delaying childbearing primarily benefits single women. If you already know who you want to have children with, freezing embryos (fertilized eggs) has a much higher success rate than freezing eggs alone.

Getting pregnant from a frozen embryo still isn't risk-free or guaranteed, and there's the whole what-if-we-separate-or-divorce issue, but as far as cryopreservation goes, embryo freezing has a longer and better track record.

Consider Your Age

If you’re already over 37, it may not make sense. By this age, your eggs have already begun a fertility decline, and you’re better off trying now to have kids (if that fits with your life) than freezing less-than-optimal eggs. Egg freezing is more likely to be successful for a woman freezing her eggs in her 20s or early 30s.

What's Your Back-Up Plan?

Think about what your options are if things don’t go as planned. Will egg freezing use up your lifetime limit on fertility treatment? If your eggs don’t hold up, and you need an egg donor, will that be covered? How much? How will you feel and what will you want to do if planned OC doesn't result in a baby?

A Word From Verywell

While offering social egg freezing as an insurance perk has garnered lots of press and may attract employees, planned OC is far from a fool-proof way to make a baby. Plus, it could jeopardize some women's chances to have a baby if they forgo trying to get pregnant for too long. To determine what's right for you, consider all of your options and the possible outcomes before making your decision.

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  1. Farr C. Apple, Facebook will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs. Reuters. Published October 14, 2014.

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