Could Pricey Egg-Freezing End Up Paying For Itself?

Illustrated by Tristan Offit.
If you work at Facebook, Apple, or Intel, you enjoy a big perk along with salary and other benefits: $20,000 or more to cover oocyte preservation, more commonly known as egg-freezing. Women who don’t work for one of these big tech companies usually have to pay for the procedure out of pocket, whether it's a health crisis like cancer that forces them to make the decision or a desire to put off starting families while they focus on their careers.

Egg-freezing is expensive and still a relatively untested medical procedure, but still, the number of women freezing their eggs has been rising exponentially, from around 475 in 2009 to nearly 4,000 in 2013, according to data collected by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. And that’s just the beginning: There are estimates that up to 76,000 women will opt for the procedure by 2018. For those who decide to freeze their eggs in order to spend their prime childbearing years (a woman’s fertility sharply declines after 40) focused on their professional lives, it can make financial sense in the long run.

There are estimates that up to 76,000 women will opt for to freeze their eggs by 2018.

Lisa*, 34, recently spent $10,000 for one cycle of egg-freezing at the Valley Center for Reproductive Health in Sherman Oaks, CA, under the care of Dr. Melanie Landay. While the price tag was daunting, she ultimately decided she couldn’t skimp on her chances for children. The total cost was less than she’d anticipated. “I happen to be okay in my business at the moment,” she says. “I didn’t have to take out a credit card, and it wasn’t like I had to choose between food or freezing my eggs. I’m even thinking about maybe doing it again.”

As an entrepreneur who runs an entertainment PR firm and an online jewelry business, Lisa, who is single, jokes she wants to build an empire. “I want to have kids, as well,” she says, more seriously. “I’m trying to set up a successful business now, so it can run itself a little bit more later on. I’m very driven, but I’m also maternal.”

If you look at it one way, Lisa may have made a good long-term investment. Census data shows that women who wait until their late 30s or early 40s to have children earn more — about $7,500 per year — than women who have kids just a little bit sooner. The difference is especially pronounced in occupations that require higher levels of education. Women in management roles who have pre-school aged children in their 40s can earn up to $15,000 more than their younger counterparts.

Women in management roles who have pre-school aged children in their 40s can earn up to $15,000 more than their younger counterparts.

While some companies and fertility clinics have been trying to lower the cost of egg-freezing with tactics like bundling cycles, the price is still steep. Lisa’s expenditure came in on the low end. Typically, each monthlong cycle costs between $9,000 and $18,000 (medication alone costs upward of $5,000, although some health insurance plans may cover it), and many women require more than one cycle to get enough eggs for a good shot at a future pregnancy. Then, there is the additional $350 to $1,000 per year to keep the eggs safely frozen until ready to use. When a woman is ready to use the eggs, she has to pay for egg-thaw, fertilization, and embryo transfer, which can cost around $5,000. If you add it all up, the numbers can reach up to $50,000 — the price of a down payment on a home in some cities.

Dr. Kari Sproul von Goeben, MD, a board-certified Ob-Gyn and reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist who practices at the Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine counseled a rush of new patients — mostly single women in their 30s — after tech companies started offering the coverage. Her advice: “If cost is no issue, go for it. You’re giving yourself another option when you want to get pregnant if you are having difficulties.” But there is still little data on the success rate of the procedure. A recent NPR story suggested it was still relatively low, with only 20 to 24% of live births resulting from frozen eggs since 2009.

each monthlong cycle costs between $9,000 and $18,000.

Freezing earlier leaves you with a better chance for a pregnancy later on — many doctors suggest 34 is the ideal age, though that’s a matter of debate (and the procedure is still so new that there aren’t examples of women who’ve used eggs that have been frozen for 20 years). But in your 20s and early 30s, women are more likely to have lower salaries and high student loan debt, making it more difficult to afford the procedure. And if you freeze eggs many years before you plan to use them, you’ll end up paying a lot more in storage costs. Women who freeze their eggs at 25 and don’t use them until 40 could spend as much as $15,000 on storage alone. So while you want to make sure you get healthy, viable eggs, rushing out and freezing them in your 20s might not be the smartest financial move.

On the other hand, it’s important to point out those who don’t choose to freeze their eggs may still end up spending a lot on fertility treatments. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, women who delay having children until their 40s will spend more money on fertility treatments than if they had frozen their eggs in their 30s — and they face a lower chance of conception.

Many doctors suggest 34 is the ideal age for women to freeze their eggs.

There are options for those who don’t have cash on hand for egg-freezing. You can borrow from family, crowdfund, max out credit cards, or even take on a loan from the fertility clinic or a financial partner like Prosper Healthcare Lending and LendingClub. Some women consider it an investment in both their personal and professional futures.

Of course, the choice of whether and when to have children should not be solely based on financial calculations.

“I ideally wouldn’t recommend putting off your fertility for your career,” says Dr. Sproul von Goeben, herself a mother of two. “There’s never a perfect time and even if you freeze eggs, there’s not a guarantee they will result in a child in the future.”

Making the decision to freeze your eggs so you can have the your 20s and 30s to focus on your career isn't a straightforward or easy decision. While it might be hard to imagine at 25 what you'll be like in the future, it's crucial for young women to think about and plan for what they want beyond next week or next year. Egg-freezing might not be right for every woman, but there is something very powerful about being able to take control of your fertility and build your personal and professional life on your own timeline.

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