TALLINN - Health officials are concerned infertility funding is to be slashed in the projected 2009 budget at a time when Estonia's population is shrinking.
The budget has reportedly earmarked only 10 million kroons (639,114 euros) for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, a marked decrease from the current 50 million kroon allocation.
The Estonian Health Insurance Fund said patients will likely once again have to pay for 30 percent of their treatment 's which will deter them from using the program, especially in times of economic instability.
The program is of particular importance in Estonia as it is a small nation with low birth rates and high levels of emigration. The Estonian Health Insurance Fund recognizes the vital importance of taking measures to encourage couples to have children.
By the end of this year over 1400 IVF procedures will have been performed in Estonia; the prognosis for 2009 was to be 1500 such procedures but according to Director of Nova Vita IVF clinic, Andres Saluments, the reduced budget has derailed this expectation.
"With this money it is possible to make only about 200 procedures and not 1500, as was planned in this year," Saluments said.
According to Saluments, the 1500 procedures would amount to roughly 800 successful births, a figure that comprises 5 percent of Estonia's annual births.
"Sadly, this decision will become a big disappointment for many patients," he said.
According to Director of the Parnu Health Insurance Fund, Kalio Poldov, inspection of the budget clearly shows that the IVF budget will be reduced to 10 million kroons thus necessitating patients to pay
30 percent of the cost. He said that out of the 8483 kroon cost of the treatment, patients will be left to foot 2500 kroons.
Prior to 2008 patients were also required to foot a percentage of the bill, but statistics show that this hampers the effectiveness of the IVF program; when the government moved to cover the complete cost of the treatment a 25 percent increase in participation was seen.
Elie Llles, a press-representative for the Ministry of Social Affairs, has said that the decision to return to personal participation in the IVF payment had not yet been confirmed, and the topic not properly discussed.
"As of yet the standing is indefinite, as it is not clear how much money will be spent on IVF this year," she said.
Nonetheless, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund and medical professionals appear skeptical about such statements, remaining adamant that the cuts will be made and Estonia's already faltering population growth will pay the price.
Estonia's longstanding IVF program, which was conceived in Tartu in 1993, has gained international renown for its high rate of success, often attracting EU patients who have been unsuccessful in their home countries.