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Some Canadian employers offer egg freezing as part of expanded fertility benefits

Tonya Johnson, 39, is single, happy and freezing her eggs to buy a little more time before she starts a family. The procedure is costly — as much as $15,000 for one egg freezing cycle with medication — putting it out of reach for many.
In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo, Kimberly Malm removes a container with frozen embryos and sperm being stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Fla. The increasingly popular procedure is costly — as much as $15,000 for an egg freezing cycle and medication — putting it out of reach of many women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Lynne Sladky

Tonya Johnson, 39, is single, happy and freezing her eggs to buy a little more time before she starts a family.

The procedure is costly — as much as $15,000 for one egg freezing cycle with medication — putting it out of reach for many.

But Johnson works for one of a growing number of companies in Canada offering egg freezing as an employee health benefit.

"I spent the bulk of my 30s focused on my career, but I'd like to have a family one day. It just hasn't happened yet for me," said Johnson, the communications lead for Canada and Latin America at Snap Inc., the company behind social media app Snapchat.

"Egg freezing provides a real sense of freedom for me and a feeling of control over my fertility journey."

Fertility preservation, or the freezing of eggs or sperm, is being offered by some employers as part of an expanded suite of fertility and family planning benefits.

Experts say the additional health coverage gives some companies an advantage in a tight labour market with worker retention and recruitment.

The added benefits significantly sweeten an employee's total compensation, or the value of a salary, health insurance and other benefits altogether, they say.

"I work with a lot of women in their 30s who say they feel their biological clock ticking," said Cindy Marques, a certified financial planner and director at Open Access, a group retirement plan provider.

"They often want to start saving to either freeze their eggs or for possible IVF down the road and it's certainly not cheap," she said. "Having a workplace that offers some coverage for these procedures would be a significant financial benefit."

Still, Marques cautioned that workers should be aware of the ongoing fees following a procedure, and be prepared to shoulder the cost should they leave their company.

Egg storage is often free for several months following the retrieval procedure, but can cost as much as $50 a month, or $600 per year.

While egg freezing is gradually becoming more mainstream in Canada, only about five per cent of companies offer fertility benefits that cover the procedure compared with roughly 40 per cent in the United States, according to a report by national fertility organization Fertility Matters Canada.

Tech companies are leading the way, particularly those with large U.S. parents like Google, Apple and Meta. Snap is among the most generous, with workers eligible for up to $65,000 in fertility and adoption coverage through Carrot Fertility and up to $130,000 towards surrogacy expenses.

Canada's banks and telecoms are also upping family benefits. Scotiabank, for example, covers up to $10,000 for fertility, adoption and surrogacy support, while Vancouver-based Telus pays for up to $15,000 in fertility costs including egg freezing.

The expansion of employer fertility coverage mirrors the growing demand for services like egg freezing, which recorded a spike during the pandemic, according to Fertility Matters Canada.

Evolve, which opened in Toronto last March, said it is Canada's first fertility clinic dedicated to egg freezing and is now booked months in advance.

"Since opening our doors, Evolve has seen a strong demand for egg freezing information and support," Evolve spokeswoman Katie Ostler said.

Cisco Canada launched sweeping family planning benefits in 2020, providing workers with up to $50,000 for fertility expenses, including the harvesting, freezing and storage of eggs, sperm, and embryos.

"We spend a lot of time listening to the needs of our employees and what they're looking for and this is certainly something that has percolated up from that," Cisco Canada president Shannon Leininger said in an interview.

"When you look at attracting and retaining talent, it's more than just a paycheque people are looking for," she said. "People that are starting families want to work with a company that shares their values and allows them to have some flexibility to plan their career around their family and not the other way around."

Leininger added: "It's about giving our employees a choice, and recognizing that life experiences should be a priority."

Meanwhile, Johnson — who completed her first egg retrieval in November — is planning a second cycle this spring.

"I'm doing this twice, so that could have been as much as $30,000 out of pocket if I didn't have coverage," she said. "It's a huge benefit to have an employer that actually cares and is willing to support me in this."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2023.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press