Up-selling IVF in a down market

Posted by Jesse Reynolds April 14, 2009
Biopolitical Times
How is the fertility industry responding to the economic meltdown? In contrast to personal gene sequencing services, whose prices are plummeting, the cost of assisted reproductive technology has gradually increased. The Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine issued a press release [PDF] touting its new low cost version of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Sher's Micro-IVF costs only $5000 per cycle, compared to $15,000 or so per round of traditional IVF. However, it may not be the bargain that it's touted as.

Instead of comparing Micro-IVF to traditional IVF, Sher's website touts it as an alternative to intrauterine injection (IUI), a medical form of artificial insemination. Although IUI remains less expensive than Micro-IVF, Sher asserts that the lower success rates for IUI could make it more expensive than Micro-IVF in the long run. Of course, money isn't the only issue. IVF is much more invasive than IUI.

But just what is Micro-IVF?
By targeting patients who otherwise are good candidates for IUI but deserve better odds - those who have the best chances of a successful outcome - and by avoiding expensive and time-intensive, high-tech processes and procedures needed for more difficult candidates....

Candidates for the program must meet certain conditions which would streamline their treatment, thus improving cost efficiencies: they must be under 36 years of age and have regular menstrual periods, and they must have no evidence of abnormally low reserves of eggs, no severe infertility in their male partners, and - perhaps most timely- no health insurance coverage of IVF treatments.
In other words, couples who have no indicators of major infertility and for whom IUI is appropriate are being steered towards the more invasive and expensive (on a per cycle basis) IVF. The price can be kept down because of the lower costs to treat such couples. In fact, the company's founder, Geoff Sher, agrees with this comment on the message board of his center's website:
Sounds simply like a discount on regular IVF, for good candidates.

It is a classic case of up-selling.

Coincidentally, the Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine was part of an excellent investigation in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. The fertility business is notoriously cutthroat, and this piece chronicles a torrid falling-out among Sher, the large Huntington Reproductive Center, and Huntington's founder.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: