Australians who are carriers of significant genetic conditions and are planning pregnancy will finally get access to more affordable testing from 1 November.
Preimplantation genetic testing of embryo is being added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, as part of an overall package announced in the May Budget aimed at "improving long-term health outcomes for women and girls" across Australia.
As an obstetrician-gynaecologist and genetic pathologist this is a policy shift that I and my genetics colleagues have been campaigning for on behalf of patients for many years.
The new subsidy for preimplantation genetic testing is an important step in supporting women's health and providing better reproductive options for families.
Preimplantation genetic testing is an exceptionally important medical treatment that involves the testing of embryos for significant genetic conditions that could affect the health of the child or their health in adult life, including Fragile X syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
In the past, people who carry genetic conditions had to pay significant out-of-pocket costs to test their embryos to reduce the chance of passing genetic conditions on to their future children.
While the IVF component of this treatment has previously been funded by the MBS, this funding did not include preimplantation genetic testing, making preimplantation genetic testing inaccessible to many families.
Australia is now one of the first countries in the world to have this treatment broadly supported by the government and the health system. It's extremely forward thinking.
When people are planning a pregnancy, they need to be aware there is a chance one or both of them might be carriers of a significant genetic condition, even if there is no family history of a genetic condition.
By undergoing reproductive genetic carrier screening, they may identify that they have a high chance of having a child with a significant genetic condition. In my experience, about one in 40 couples will find out they are in this situation.
For those people, the government funding will make a big difference by supporting their care and keeping this option available.
Preimplantation embryo testing is a mature technology and it is obvious more and more couples could benefit from it. This will be a significant help to a lot of people.
- Dr Tristan Hardy is the medical director of Genetics at Monash IVF Group and an expert in preimplantation genetic testing.