Egg freezing offered to workers by Apple and Facebook could make expensive procedure a sought-after perk

Photograph by Matt Kalinowski via Boston.com
Photograph by Matt Kalinowski via Boston.com

Word got out earlier this week that Facebook and Apple will be offering a new perk to their female employees. They become the first major employers in the country to cover the costs for employees to freeze their eggs, including for non-medical reasons.

The thinking behind the move, which has drawn mixed reactions from the tech/media world, is that removing the societal and biological pressures to start a family can be “empowering” to women.

In Bloomberg Businessweek, author Emma Rosenblum claims that, “Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning.”

In the spring, I had the opportunity to speak with Pei Lin Kim, a local anesthesiologist, and Dr. Alison Zimon of Boston IVF about the uptick in elective egg freezing, the preservation of eggs for women when they are younger to be used when they are ready to start a family, which could be at a stage in life when getting pregnant is much more challenging.

Kim, who said she froze her eggs at age 34, worked at Boston IVF and noticed that more and more women were needing fertility treatments because it was difficult to get pregnant at older ages. “I was seeing all these patients go through,” she said, “and I was thinking that when I’m ready to have a family, it may not be an option for me if I didn’t do something now.”

Kim said that she may or may not use her frozen eggs, depending on whether or not she finds the right person to start a family with.

“For me, it was a really good option, almost to have some sort of insurance for the possibility of when I want a family,” she said. “I’m not limited by time, I don’t have to think that I have to find a husband and have a family in a certain period of years.”

“When I decided to do the egg freezing, I found less pressure to find a significant other at that moment,” Kim added.

Zimon said that a big change in how the process is perceived came when the American Society of Reproduction looked at the use of new technologies for freezing eggs in 2012, and determined that it was no longer for investigation or experimental purposes, making it possible to do the procedure clinically in the U.S.

“We’ve had a huge breakthrough in terms of the technology,” Zimon said. “Part of it is that the methods of freezing eggs or embryos, which are technically challenging, have been improved.

“Unfortunately, for women,” she added, “our fertility goes down so quickly from the early 30s to the late 30s and into the 40s, that  it becomes much more difficult to be able to become pregnant. Freezing eggs when you are in your 20s and early 30s is obviously a huge advantage for women, and gives them more options that they never had before.”

Pei Lin Kim said that she is seeing elective egg freezing become more popular.

“I feel like I’m seeing it more and more, especially at Boston IVF,” she said. “People are talking about it a little more, and some of my friends are asking me about it.”

In a pamphlet, RSC New England pegs the cost of egg freezing at approximately $6,000, which includes 3 months of storage, but adds that the fee “does not include the required diagnostic testing, fertility medications, or additional years of cryopreservation…[and] there will be additional costs when you are ready to thaw your eggs in an attempt to conceive.”

The Bloomberg Businessweek piece estimated that egg freezing could cost, “Anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000, not including drugs and storage fees, which run about $3,000 and $1,000 a year, respectively.”

For a procedure done by choice that is not covered by insurance, the move from Facebook and Apple could have an impact on women having different career trajectories in technology companies. And it ultimately could emerge as one of the most sought after (and looking at costs, financially impactful) employee perks available.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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