July 06, 2022 08:40
More and more Korean couples are seeking fertility treatment as they marry later in their lives and procedures are covered by public heath insurance.
According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, the number of women who sought fertility treatment rose from 27,846 in 2018 to 35,311 in 2021, and another 19,344 women sought treatment in the first four months of this year.
Childbirth thanks to fertility treatment has also increased. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the mothers of 8.1 percent of the 260,500 children born last year had government support for fertility treatment. That boils down to one in every 12 babies and compares to only 1.2 percent in 2006.
Koreans are marrying and having children later. In 2011, the average age of first-time mothers was 31.45, but that had risen to 33.4 last year.
Alarmed at the low birthrate, the government started covering the cost of fertility treatment in 2017. At present, couples whose combined household income is less than W5.87 million are eligible for support for up to nine courses of treatment (US$1=W1,300).
The government said the cap exists to prevent excessive hormone treatments, which can have a negative impact on the health of women. But infertile couples say it is unfair as causes of infertility vary depending on body conditions.
The cap has also had odd side effects. Some infertile couples even quit their jobs to become eligible for state support, so many people are demanding universal free fertility treatment.
Experts say expanding government support could be far more effective than other broad cash incentives aimed at spurring childbirth. The government spent W150 trillion from 2016 to 2020 to deal with Korea's chronically low birthrate, but in that time it actually fell from 1.17 children to 0.84 child.
The amount of money spent on fertility treatments is much smaller than other incentives like childcare support. HIRA data show it cost the government just W217.8 billion to provide fertility treatment, 1/10 of the amount it pays in other incentives.
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