Hungary takes over fertility clinics to offer free IVF services in bid to halt population decline

Hungary takes over fertility clinics to offer free IVF services in bid to halt population decline
IVF treatment will be free for couples after state takes over fertility clinics
By Tamas Szilagyi in Budapest January 14, 2020

Hungary's state asset manager MNV has taken ownership of six fertility clinics in the country to provide free in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to couples, local media reported on January 14. The government first unveiled plans to buy clinics in December. Financial details were not released.

In an international press conference last week, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said taking over clinics will ensure proper oversight from a bioethical viewpoint but the key factor was that the government wants to make IVF treatment free of charge.

The government has long advocated a "procreation over immigration" approach to deal with demographic decline and introduced a string of measures. Orban has repeatedly said that family support programmes are his government's answers to migration.

There are about 150,000 infertile couples in Hungary who want to have children. If every couple in Hungary who wanted to have a child could, depopulation would no longer be a problem, state secretary for family and youth affairs Katalin Novak said.

The takeover means that fertility exams will also be made free, and limits on fertility clinic volume will be scrapped, eliminating long waiting periods. The subsidy on medication used during fertility treatments will go up from 90% to 100% from February 1.

Hungary's population declined by 41,300 in 2018 to 9.76mn, according to recent figures by the statistical office. The KSH said the total fertility rate was 1.49%, unchanged from the previous year, but up from 1.2% in 2010.

The willingness to have children remained unchanged and the number of live births fell due to the decline in the number of women of childbearing age, which makes it a mounting challenge to overcome the demographic trap, according to the report. 

Hungary's population declined by some 300,000 in the last ten years and by nearly 1mn since 1982. If the annual decline accelerates, the number of inhabitants could drop to 8.5mn in 20 years.

The head of one of the six clinics overtaken by the state said the acquisition would not cause any change to the level of quality at the clinic. Former management and board members will retain their positions. 

Running fertility clinics has been a profitable business. Three of the largest fertility clinics, owned by the same business group, generated HUF700mn (€2.1mn) after-tax profit on HUF3bn revenue in 2018.

Critics point out that the government decree stipulates state ownership until December 31, 2022. There are rumours that the clinics would later be privatised.