January 22, 1996
Web posted at: 6:45 a.m EST
From Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz
SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Some call it a gimmick, others a godsend. It's a plan to help infertile couples have babies without breaking the bank. (85K AIFF sound or 85K WAV sound)
Chris and Elizabeth, a Canadian couple, bet just about all they had that a San Francisco doctor could overcome their infertility.
The gamble cost more than $20,000, enough to cover two in vitro attempts. Elizabeth conceived on the first attempt. And there was a double blessing -- test tube twins Claire and Meranda. Chris says that the girls have erased all anxiety about the financial stake that made their lives possible.
"We've got two wonderful little girls," he says.
Dr. Geoffrey Sher's Pacific Fertility Medical Center is among the first to offer package deals. In the latest version, the up-front cost is slightly higher than usual -- but it includes what amounts to a money-back guarantee.
"What we're doing and saying to them is that not only do we have a good chance of getting you where you need to go but we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is," explains Sher.
Couples put up $14,500 for the first attempt at in vitro fertilization. If the woman does not conceive in the first three months, most of the money is refunded. The offer is good for three tries -- enough, Sher says, for most to go home with a baby.
"In our program where the success rates are high," he says. "We feel that 75 percent of women under 40 will have a baby within three attempts ... with us."
Sher bristles at critics who claim that for most infertile couples, the test tube baby industry is a rip-off. But he says the only defense is for doctors to lay the cards on the table. (170K AIFF sound or 170K WAV sound)
Under terms of the money back plan, women must be under 40 to qualify for the best deal. They must have a normal uterus and sufficient FSH, an essential hormone. According to Sher, about 85 percent of infertile women qualify.
The plan refunds money only for pregnancies lost in the first trimester. Later miscarriage is rare, the doctor says, and should be regarded as an obstetrical rather than infertility problem.
Some of Sher's competitors in the test tube baby business call what he does a gimmick.
"The main motivation behind this is to increase their business," charges Dr. Guy Ringler at Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.
But Sher dismisses the criticism as sour grapes. He says his clinics will make money because they are good at what they do. At most, his clients will be overjoyed with their babies. And at the very least, they will be grateful they didn't lose the farm trying.
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