https://www.thestar.com/business/2022/04/13/birth-of-a-benefit-canadian-firms-struggling-to-retain-staff-offering-improved-fertility-coverage.html

Amid a competitive labour market, more Canadian employers are adding significant coverage for fertility treatments, adoption and surrogacy to their benefits coverage in a bid to attract, retain and support the next generation of talent.

These employers, including some major banks, now cover thousands of dollars’ worth of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy costs.

Carolynn Dubé, executive director of Fertility Matters Canada, said she thinks that the competitive labour market means employers are looking at ways to attract and retain their employees.

“There’s been a huge shift in the past 12 months,” she said. “I’m applauding them very loudly.”

Fertility clinics are busy right now, she said, likely in part because of the flexibility of working from home and availability of virtual care.

In a survey of employers across Canada in 2019 by Fertility Matters and Conceivable Dreams, most employers did not cover fertility in their benefits. Of those that did, only five per cent provided coverage of both fertility drugs and other procedures and testing; most had a lifetime maximum that ranged anywhere from $2,400 to $18,000 with a median maximum of $3,250; and one in five had an annual maximum, topping out at $2,000 or less.

For many, though, a few thousand dollars is “a drop in the bucket” compared to the actual cost of going through fertility procedures or surrogacy, Dubé said.

Scotiabank director of global benefits Ayman Alvi said the bank had been hearing from employees about the financial and mental toll that fertility, adoption and surrogacy can take on a family.

He said it’s “good business” to support employees through this time, and that Scotiabank had already been looking at ways to improve its mental health coverage.

On April 1, Scotiabank began offering family benefits up to $10,000 each for fertility, adoption and surrogacy support. And next year they are expanding parental benefits to give employees welcoming a new child eight full-paid weeks off and another eight weeks for parents who have given birth.

Because fertility, adoption and surrogacy can involve a variety of costs beyond the medical realm, including legal or travel expenses, Alvi said the bank will work with employees to determine what needs to be covered.

According to TD Bank’s website, in March, the bank enhanced its benefits to include coverage for fertility and reproductive treatments, support for surrogacy and donor costs, and support for adoption costs, up to $20,000 for each benefit.

Social media company Snap Inc., which has 160 employees in Canada, offers workers up to $65,000 for fertility and adoption-related expenses, and up to $130,000 for surrogacy-related expenses.

Cisco Canada covers up to $50,000 for expenses including IVF, freezing eggs, and donor services. It also covers up to $20,000 each for adoption and surrogacy expenses.

Pinterest, which has 140 employees in Canada, recently updated its benefits to include two cycles of IVF and egg freezing for employees around the world. The company also offers four paid-weeks of leave for miscarriages, as well as support for surrogacy and breast milk shipments.

These employers are among those that have added or significantly boosted their family planning benefits to support employees going through fertility issues, saving eggs, adopting or utilizing surrogacy.

After giving birth prematurely last August, Gena Sherwood could tell something wasn’t right. Though doctors told the Pinterest partner manager that she was recovering well and could get pregnant again if she wished, Sherwood wanted a second opinion.

Luckily for her, at the beginning of 2022 Pinterest expanded its coverage for fertility testing and treatment. Sherwood was able to go to a fertility clinic free of cost, and found out she was right — getting pregnant again would have been extremely dangerous.

Now, her benefits will cover additional support from the clinic, as well as adoption if she chooses to pursue it.

“It just honestly is a ton of peace of mind,” said Sherwood. “This process has erased so many unknowns for me.”

According to the federal government, around one in six Canadian couples experience fertility issues, a figure that has doubled since the 1980s.

Last year, fertility patient groups Conceivable Dreams and Fertility Matters launched a campaign called Fertility Benefits Matter, encouraging employers to improve their benefits coverage for fertility treatments such as IVF and fertility drugs.

Tara Wood, president of Conceivable Dreams, said while Ontario’s fertility program covers one IVF round, it doesn’t cover any following rounds, and many people need more than one. It also doesn’t cover the costly drugs that come along with a round of IVF, she said, which can run up to $7,000 per procedure.

Wood’s first round of IVF only cost $3,000 out of pocket, thanks to her employer at the time. But her second round, which happened while she was self-employed, cost her $25,000.

The Fertility Benefits Matter campaign involved conversations with the Big Five banks, some of which have gone on to improve fertility benefits, said Wood. And she thinks the tides are turning on the issue. “I’m so excited to see … a turn in the right direction.”

This also isn’t only about conception via a parent with a uterus, she noted — companies wishing to have equitable benefits plans need to also consider adoption and surrogacy. Employers and benefit providers should be reviewing their language to ensure it’s clear and up-to-date, she said.

“When we look at LGBTQ couples or anyone who’s looking at surrogacy, adoption, parental leave … we really need to take an equity look,” said Wood. “What are those benefits and how do they apply to all of our employees?”

According to U.S. research by FertilityIQ, employees whose companies covered IVF treatments were significantly more likely to remain at their job for longer. And in a tight labour market, employers are looking for ways to stand out among the competition.

The fact that more employers are offering these benefits show that the often-hidden struggles of would-be parents are becoming more out in the open, said Sherwood, which she’s glad to see.

“There’s no perfect or one way to bring a family into the world.”

Correction – April 13, 2022: This article was edited to correct the given name of Gena Sherwood, partner manager, Pinterest.