Infertility is a disease. Does it matter?

More than one in eight couples of childbearing age have difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) have designated infertility a disease. Recently, delegates at the 2017 AMA Annual Meeting voted in support of WHO’s designation of infertility as a disease. The declaration could have a broader impact on how patients, insurers and society conceive of and act with regard to infertility.

In almost all healthcare systems infertility is one of the last conditions covered and if covered it is usually minimal. like just diagnostic testing, no treatment. Infertility in both men and women leads to a decline in many quality-of-life metrics, including depression, shame, guilt, inadequacy and social isolation. Early treatment of infertility improves these metrics and the overall prospects of pregnancy, according to data provided in the resolution adopted by the AMA House of Delegates (HOD).

Infertility is not uncommon. Infertility affects 15 percent of couples and is recognized as a complex disease by WHO and ASRM. Some of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S., including Cigna, Optum Health and Aetna, cover some treatments. However, not all insurance companies cover treatment.

Delegates offered unanimous reference-committee testimony supportive of designating infertility as a disease state with an emphasis on how this would promote insurance coverage and payment. Many cited experience in treating couples with infertility and noted complicated testing and treatments as well as the stigma associated with the situation.

The House of Delegates adopted policy supporting WHO’s designation of infertility as a disease state with multiple etiologies requiring a range of interventions to advance fertility treatment and prevention.

We can push our legislators to include infertility in any future health system now with the backup of the AMA, WHO and ASRM declaring it a disease and giving the diagnosis legitimacy.

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