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Patients in Illinois Struggle to Afford Fertility Treatment

CHICAGO (CBS) – Egg freezing and in vitro fertilization are two high-tech medical procedures that can literally create life. But unlike many major surgeries, they aren't always covered by insurance. So, is IVF only for the wealthy?

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey dug into what's being done and what needs to be done to make starting a family affordable for all.

Penelope Turgeon and her husband met later in life but wanted a family so badly. "We would both need treatment, and that's when the bills started to add up," Turgeon said.

They actually had insurance, but to their complete surprise, because their case involved reversing a vasectomy, none of it was covered.

"It was a very, very disappointing moment that we just didn't believe it," she said. "We had to call customer service for them to explain."

"The costs can range widely, but many couples pay around $22,000 for a single IVF cycle, that is, without insurance. Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, the medical director at Fertility Centers of Illinois, explained that the cost itself isn't as astronomical as one might think.

"It's our job to change that. It's a perception that's wrong and infertility is not only experienced by a subset of the population," Hirshfeld-Cytron said. She added, "If we look at the price tag of other medical subspecialities it's really not expensive. It's just that it's not covered. That right there is the challenge."

Hirshfeld-Cytron took CBS 2 on a tour of her River North office to show how they make miracles happen. She explained it's the insurance plan and even the state patients live in that dictate whether a couple's access to the kinds of miracles is financially possible, or completely unaffordable.

"It's a privilege and an honor but unfortunately there are some within Illinois that remain under and uninsured," Hirshfeld-Cytron said.

As of this summer, 21 states, including Illinois, have passed fertility insurance coverage laws and 14 of those laws include some form of IVF coverage. But there are many exceptions.For example, a patient's company must be headquartered in Illinois and have 150 employees, Hirschfeld-Cytron said. No states currently require coverage for "elective egg freezing," the process in which a woman's eggs are extracted and frozen. Those eggs can later be used for IVF..

Jennifer Lannon, co-founder of Freeze Health, said in the U.S., the median cost for one cycle of egg freezing would be about $12,500. Her organization helps women decide when and where to freeze their eggs. In recent years, they've been advising some women to grab their passports.

"At a global level, for all non-U.S. countries, we find that the median cost is about $7,000 per cycle," Lannon said. "But then, if we look to more specific countries, in Spain it goes as low as the median cost is about $4,000 per cycle.".

That's right. Egg freezing tourism.

Lannon said women definitely have to do their homework when they're traveling for a medical procedure and figure out a storage plan. But that's something her group helps with. Freeze Health has detailed information on egg freezing in 14 different countries. Lannon said over time, fortunately for patients, U.S. employers have been catching on.

"Luckily, we're gradually, year by year, getting more coverage and more access for women, couples and aspiring families across the U.S.," she said.

In Chicago, Hirshfeld-Cytron and some of her colleagues are doing their part too. They started the Chicago Coalition for Family Building, which provides fully-funded IVF cycles donated by their partner practices. They also provide some financial grants for surrogacy and adoption.

"We try to identify those that we have the greatest opportunity to help," Hirshfeld-Cytron said.

They want to help those like Turgeon. She thought her dream of a family had slipped away, but applied for a grant anyway.

Hickey: "Do you know if it's a boy or girl? Are you waiting to find out?"

Just a few days after CBS 2 interviewed Turgeon, she and her husband welcomed baby Gideon into the world. It's why she encouraged others in her shoes to keep fighting.

"There's always a bunch of curveballs," she said. "I understand that it can be difficult, but yeah, don't give up. There's light at the end of the tunnel."

For more information on the Chicago Coalition for Family Building, visit their website.

For more specific information on resources for egg freezing, visit