By Risa A. Levine, RESOLVE Board Member and New York Resident
Some time ago, I read that Winston Churchill used to say: “Never, never, never give up.” It’s a tough challenge, that stick-with-it thing. Wants and needs change over time, goals shift. And sometimes, life’s practicalities get in the way: you learn that some of those wants, needs, and goals need to be realigned. Nothing is static.
I think what Churchill was really talking about was a more abstract concept, keep re-inventing to find a new way to achieve an old goal. Or keep finding new goals when old goals become anachronistic. When the target moves, you simply must re-aim.
When I first started going through infertility treatments, I was horrified to learn that I had a lifetime maximum coverage of ten thousand dollars. Ten. Thousand. Dollars. In Manhattan, that took about ten minutes to blow through. I learned that some of my co-sufferers didn’t have any coverage for infertility treatments, but my friends in New Jersey had full coverage. I didn’t know anything about insurance laws, but I knew that was wrong. I immediately started advocating for change. My first stop was the federal government: I knew that national mandates had been enacted for different healthcare issues and I wanted one for infertility coverage. While advocating for a national insurance bill, RESOLVE and I found each other. As a RESOLVE volunteer, I worked on a number of federal bills seeking to expand access to care for infertility patients in creative ways. But insurance coverage for everyone was always my number one issue.
New York is one of only fifteen states that has some form of an infertility insurance law. But the current language hurts too many people: it specifically carves out IVF from the required coverage. For all of those people for whom IVF is the only efficacious treatment, this law is useless. Although I am not giving up on pursuing federal legislation, with a family-friendly governor in Albany, focusing on expanding coverage for New Yorkers seemed like a good idea. After years of personally lobbying friends with Albany connections and friends in the Governor’s office, it looks like we are finally making headway.
Anyone who has ever worked on getting laws enacted knows that it takes several years to attain that goal. In fact, we have been working on state legislation called the Fair Access to Fertility Treatment Act (FAFTA) in New York since 2016, which would expand coverage for IVF for people diagnosed with infertility and cover fertility preservation for cancer patients. This legislation is non-discriminatory and would also provide coverage for treatments necessitated by sexual preference. FAFTA would give New Yorkers the coverage they need, and while it wouldn’t restore the hundreds of thousands of dollars I spent on infertility treatments personally, it would somehow make me feel that my own experiences weren’t a total waste. And that’s a big deal.
Last week, I was thrilled to attend Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Announcement of his Opportunity and Rights Agenda for New York’s Women and Girls, 2018. It was a magical day. I sat in anticipation with women – and even a few men – from all over the state eagerly waiting to hear the Governor’s agenda priorities to address the challenges faced by women and remediate the inadequacies of current law. Feeling a part of such a great group of powerful and empowering women, I felt renewed pride in the work I’ve been doing for so many years.
As Secretary Melissa DeRosa, the first woman in this highest appointed position in New York State, approached the stage, copies of the Governor’s Report were distributed. We eagerly turned to the Table of Contents to see if our issues were addressed. And soon learned they were. Hearing Secretary DeRosa speak to the need to expand coverage of IVF to people who wish to build their families through that procedure brought tears to my eyes. I admit, I let out a little yelp. At that point, Melissa paused in her delivery, looked straight at me, and nodded her head. A snapshot moment printed indelibly in my mind, no Snapchat needed. A living testament to the power of individual advocacy.
Now, with the release of the Governor’s 2018 Report on the Status of Women and Girls, Governor Andrew Cuomo has made ensuring coverage for people with infertility and for cancer preservation a priority. While the Governor is investigating the best path forward to achieve this goal expeditiously and permanently, we will continue to work for the passage of FAFTA in the state legislature for his signature. Finally, I feel like achieving my goal of expanding insurance coverage for fertility patients is within sight.
While the path to full coverage is not a straight line, I promise the ghost of Winston Churchill that I will never, ever, ever give up.
To join Risa in advocating in New York, visit www.resolve.org/FAFTAToolkit. To work on family building advocacy in your own state or at the federal level, learn more here: https://resolve.org/get-involved/advocate-for-access/.