THE cost of some IVF services has soared as private equity funds have moved in on many Australian clinics looking to profit from the booming business of infertility.
Patient bills seen by Fairfax Media reveal the cost of a single fresh IVF cycle at Melbourne IVF before Medicare rebates or private health insurance are applied has increased from about $3833 in 2007 to $8640 in 2012 – an average increase of 18 per cent per year.
In the same period, embryo transfer fees at the clinic have surged an average 13 per cent each year from about $1662 to $3000, which includes a new $395 hospital fee.
The increases are nearly three and four times the rate of health-service inflation, which has been rising at an average of 5 per cent per year over the past decade.
A Fairfax investigation has found some desperate patients are taking out loans and remortgaging their homes to pay for IVF amid increasing concern about the corporatisation of the sector in Australia.
Some fertility specialists fear a rising drive for profits could lead to overservicing and more fee increases on the assumption infertile people will pay large amounts of money to have babies.
The private-equity invasion began with ABN Amro's purchase in 2007 of more than 50 per cent of Monash IVF, then Australia's largest provider. By 2010, it had merged with Adelaide group Repromed to create Healthbridge.
Over the same period, Quadrant Private Equity moved in on IVF Australia in NSW, paying $32.6 million for what was believed to be a controlling stake in the company. By 2010, it was merged with Melbourne IVF and the Queensland Fertility Group, creating Virtus Health.
In June, Virtus became the first infertility treatment company in the world to float on the stockmarket.
It is now worth about $712 million and reported a profit of $27.3 million in 2012-13.
Virtus Health's prospectus says it will continue to increase fees by about 5 per cent each year because "its patients have become accustomed to absorbing the rising costs of delivering healthcare services".
Last year, the federal government paid more than $230 million towards infertility services, which are almost entirely delivered through private clinics.