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Supreme Court Ruling:
2. Potential Landmark for Infertile Americans
By Stephen Smith
June 30, 1998

Part of the Supreme Court Ruling series:
1. Reproduction Called a "Major Life Activity"
2. Potential Landmark for Infertile Americans
3. Implications for Insurers, Employers

THE JUNE 25 DECISION is a potential landmark ruling for infertile Americans. Diane Aronson, Executive Director of Resolve, a Boston-based national infertility support group, applauded the court's action. "We believe this ruling will help to strengthen the claims of discrimination when those with infertility are not allowed workplace accommodations to undergo treatments or when an employer does not provide infertility insurance coverage," Aronson said. "The Supreme Court's decision will make it more difficult to unfairly discriminate against those who experience infertility."

An estimated one in six Americans are infertile. For most of them, insurance plans cover just diagnosis and a few basic treatments. Many patients have to pay for expensive fertility medications and costly high-tech procedures out of their own pockets. That's what happened to Paul and his wife Carol, who live in Ohio and have battled infertility for eight years. Paul complains that their companies would not cover the couple's infertility treatments, but would automatically pay for things like chemical dependency treatments or surgery to fix tennis elbow.

"These are things that are self-inflicted, and they cover helping those people out of those situations," Paul said. "Ours, we were born with. These are malfunctions of our bodies and yet we get no help."

About 2 percent of infertile couples seek the most advanced infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), where a woman's eggs are surgically collected, mixed with sperm in a laboratory dish, then transferred back to her uterus. One round of IVF can easily cost more than $10,000. It is rarely covered by insurance.

Infertility activists say many couples simply can't afford the medical bills. Pamela Madsen, head of Resolve's New York City chapter, says she and her husband went into debt to produce their two children. "What we did is we mortgaged our future," Madsen said. "We were a young couple. I was twenty when I married. So we used our nest egg for our home to pay for our babies, plus we had credit cards. We still live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York."

Next: 3. Implications for Insurers, Employers

The Fertility Race