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Buffalo Common Council evaluates paying for infertility treatments for city employees

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Buffalo Common Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon looks on during a meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Scanlon is calling on the city to include coverage of IVF treatments in health insurance plans for all Buffalo employees.

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Lauren Sterlace and her husband have been trying since 2019 to have a baby.

Now in her first round of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, the mental effect of the treatment has been the hardest for the couple, she said. And then there’s the hefty financial cost.

“In the last month and a half, we’ve probably spent around $9,000,” said Sterlace, a Buffalo city government employee for six years. 

To alleviate the financial and emotional burdens, Buffalo Common Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon wants the city to include coverage of IVF and fertility preservation treatments in health care benefits provided to city employees.

“We will also have to have conversations with union leadership and our health care providers, but everyone that I’ve spoken to so far, whether it’s my colleagues on the Council, administration, everyone does seem to be in favor of this. It’s just a matter of how we get it done,” said Scanlon, who represents the South District.

Each IVF treatment can cost between $12,000 and $20,000, he said.

“The physical stress and the mental, that’s going to be there whether it’s covered or not," Sterlace said. "But I think just knowing in the back of your mind that you have to pay this to even have a chance can take a big toll on your mental aspect, too."

Her parents are willing to help out financially, Sterlace said, but even that can add to the stress. “You don’t want to owe anybody any money," she said. 

Last year, a provision in state law kicked in that requires coverage of up to three rounds of IVF by health insurance provided by employers with more than 100 employees, Scanlon said. But self-insured employers – like the City of Buffalo – were exempt from the mandate.

The Council adopted last month a resolution that Scanlon introduced that asked the city’s commissioner of human resources to report the potential costs and savings associated with offering the coverage; the likelihood of the city adding the coverage for its employees; and a timeline of how the coverage would be implemented. The Human Resources Department is expected to report back during a Civil Service Committee meeting on Tuesday.

The city currently covers unlimited intrauterine insemination, or IUI, treatments, which range in cost from $300 to $1,000, as well as infertility exploratory tests and other surgical procedures that could potentially be bypassed if IVF treatments were covered, according to Scanlon's resolution.

His resolution notes the personal toll infertility can take on women and their partners. Women suffering from infertility experience heightened stress, anxiety and depression, as well as side effects from extended hormone treatment. Covering IVF treatments could potentially be less expensive in the long term and unquestionably a better option for the health and well-being of city employees.

“One of the questions we have for human resources is there’s all these other steps you can take: IUI, etc., and those cost a significant amount of money and they’re less successful,” Scanlon said. “So instead of going that route, can we just jump to IVF and not go through the trial of the IUI and other procedures that cost a significant amount of money?”

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