IVF Immune Treatments explained

IVF medication costs – what does the CMA advise?

A key part of the IVF journey is the purchase of your IVF medication.

We recognise that this comes with high levels of stress, and even with some level of patient vulnerability. In this article we are discussing the patients’ freedom to purchase IVF medication and how to identify the best option for you.

In order to present a well informed article we have reviewed the following publication. In November 2020 The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published Draft Guidance for Fertility Clinics on Consumer Law as it recognised the growing need for guidance for IVF clinics, other providers and patients.

They say:

“Media coverage of the sector, CMA reviews of clinic websites and published research, and discussions with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the Advertising Standards Authority and patient groups, all indicate that certain clinic practices may be preventing or inhibiting patients from making informed choices.”

In addition, “patients being unable to make meaningful comparisons between clinics’ prices because of the way some clinics present misleadingly low headline prices, which do not include essential elements of treatment.”

This places increasing responsibility on all providers to be as transparent as possible in all aspects of transactional communication with the patient. We, as a private pharmacy appreciate that most people in the UK are unfamiliar with
purchasing drugs though a private provider, and navigating this in addition to deciphering the information from an IVF provider can add to the confusion. In this article, we restrict our dialogue to the section which refers to the significance of the patient being able to choose whether the clinic or a private provider offers the best price for medication.

The CMA document refers to the complexity of IVF purchase overall: “involving estimations of risk and probability where outcomes are inevitably uncertain”.

In concurrence with the CMA findings and suggestions, we strive to remove any additional difficulties associated with the access to drugs by applying complete transparency on prices, never pricing above the cost price from the manufacturers.

The aforementioned document, ‘Draft Guidance for Fertility Clinics on Consumer Law’, available to view on Gov.UK will be followed up with a shorter document for patients, which sets out their specific rights under consumer law.

The CMA thought that a guidance document would be helpful for both fertility clinics and patients as a way to allay some of the concerns raised by stakeholders during their research. Concerns such as unexpected costs, difficulty
in comparing prices and success rates. This guidance applies to both UK based fertility clinics and those clinics based outside the UK but operating within the UK.

The CMA mentions that ‘there is generally a power imbalance in the relationship between medical professionals and patients’, and some patients would therefore not question what they are told. It is hoped that every stakeholder in the fertility sector supports the work of the CMA.

Section 4 – Binding patients to hidden terms highlights the level of understanding required to ensure the rights and obligations by the clinic, for the benefit of the patient are met under the terms of the contract.

Section 4.18:

(b) A term that requires patients to purchase medication from the clinic or from a supplier chosen by the clinic, especially where this may result in higher medication charges than if purchased independently from a pharmacy of the patient’s choice.59 The CMA recognises that in some scenarios patients may benefit from purchasing their medication via the clinic or their chosen supplier. For example, where the bargaining power of the clinic means they can offer the product at a lower price than competing providers or where there is a need to provide medication at short notice. However, the CMA is also aware of instances where patients would have been able to purchase medication from an independent supplier at a significantly reduced price.

“The CMA considers that even where such a clause (about patients’ choice), is drawn to the attention of consumers, it may still be unfair. This will depend on all of the circumstances but one important factor will be the extent of any potential price differential”

As a specialist fertility pharmacy, and therefore a provider within the IVF sector we know how important it is to reassure all of our present and future patients that we take the responsibility of offering transparent and accurate information very seriously.

Remember the CMA advice to IVF clinics: patients should be free to choose where to buy their medications.