MOH studying possibility of subsidising genetic disorder screening for IVF couples: Rahayu Mahzam

MOH studying possibility of subsidising genetic disorder screening for IVF couples: Rahayu Mahzam

Parliament House Singapore, top down view
Parliament House, Singapore. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) is studying the possibility of subsidising a procedure that allows couples going through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to scan embryos for genetic disorders, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam on Monday (Jan 4). 

Speaking in Parliament, Ms Rahayu said MOH is working to make Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) a mainstream clinical service for couples who need it, and is studying whether it is cost effective to make it eligible for subsidies.

The ministry is also considering allowing PGD to be paid using Medisave, she said, adding that more details regarding the review will be released when ready. 

Ms Rahayu was responding to an adjournment motion by Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng on the need to provide more support for those undergoing IVF. 

READ: Singapore to remove age limit for IVF treatments, introduce new subsidies

Mr Ng had called for the current IVF subsidy structure to be extended to PGD, which will allow couples a subsidy of 75 per cent on PGD for subsidised IVF cycles.

“PGD is needed only by a small percentage of couples, so overall subsidy costs for the government are likely to be limited,” said Mr Ng.

He also suggested that PGD be allowed to be paid using Medisave, as is the case for IVF treatments, but subject to a cap so as not to deplete the savings. 

“Couples deserve their chance to have healthy children and we should support them,” he said. 

In her response to Mr Ng, Ms Rahayu noted a study had found evidence that PGD was able to lower the risk of serious disease in children, as well as increase the possibility of carrying a child to term. 

She noted though that the cost of the procedure is high, at around S$10,000 to S$19,000 per cycle.

The technique is currently offered to patients at risk of transmitting serious inheritable diseases caused by single gene mutations or chromosomal structural variations, Ms Rahayu said. 

Mr Ng however noted that subsidising PGD could result in lower costs for the Government, as fewer IVF cycles may be needed before a successful pregnancy.

READ: Commentary: A big decision, what to expect when you go for IVF

In his adjournment motion, Mr Ng described fertility as an “existential problem” for Singapore. 

Some 15 per cent of couples here are unable to conceive within a year of trying for a baby, he noted, citing data from the KK Women's and Children’s Hospital.

He added that there were more than 7,700 assisted reproduction procedures carried out in 2017, up from about 5,500 in 2013. 

Mr Ng shared with Parliament that his three daughters were conceived through IVF, and that he and his wife were only able to have their first child on their seventh IVF attempt.

He proposed that the Government subsidise up to eight cycles of IVF, up from six currently, and that quotas for "fresh" and "frozen" cycles for subsidised IVF treatments - referring to different methods of embryo transfer - be removed, allowing couples to use the subsidies for any method of transfer.

Mr Ng also proposed the idea of “fertility leave”, which would allow couples to take time off work to go for IVF treatments. 

“These proposals will help more couples undergoing IVF and most importantly reduce their stress levels as they embark on this stressful but potentially rewarding IVF journey,” he said.

Source: CNA/az(ta)