Sep 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers make fresh push to cover fertility treatments for veterans

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A renewed effort is underway in Congress to get the government to cover more infertility treatments for veterans and active duty service members.

Driving the news: U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, Democrats from Washington state, are reintroducing a measure Thursday that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to expand their coverage for treatments like in vitro fertilization.

  • The proposal would similarly cover freezing of service members' eggs and sperm before deployments.
  • U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) are also lead sponsors of the bill.

Why it matters: Current VA and DOD rules exclude people who are unmarried or who are part of same-sex couples from infertility coverage.

  • Veterans and service members also can't qualify unless they can document their fertility issues are tied to a service-related disability or date to their time in service.
  • That requirement ends up excluding most people, said Ginny Ryan, division chief for reproductive endocrinology and infertility in the University of Washington's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Plus: The VA and DOD won't cover treatments that involve donated embryos or sperm, which is another hurdle for same-sex couples, said Ryan, who also treats infertility patients at the VA Puget Sound.

  • The same requirement is a barrier for service members or vets whose combat-related injuries prevent them from providing their own sperm, she said.

What they're saying: "Right now, it is definitely the minority of patients I see that are able to access the care, because of all of those things," Ryan told Axios, referencing her patients at the VA.

  • That leaves patients having to choose whether to pay out-of-pocket costs of $15,000 to $20,000 for one round of in vitro fertilization, she said — and some patients end up needing multiple rounds.
  • "Service members and veterans have sacrificed so much for our country—but they shouldn't have to sacrifice their ability to start a family," Murray said in a news release.

What we're watching: Whether this year's proposal will fare better than earlier legislation that stalled in committee.

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