TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) under the Cabinet-level Department of Health is assessing the feasibility of subsidising in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, in a bid to boost the birth rate, which has been on the steady decline, the bureau's director general Chiu Shu-ti said.
Chiu said that the subsidy program, once approved for infertile couples, is expected to help boost the number of newborns by at least 2,000 per year.
Chiu said that her bureau has worked out two draft subsidy programs for IVF and artificial insemination for review by the Population Policy Committee of the Ministry of the Interior.
One program calls for the government to grant each infertile couple an annual subsidy of NT$50,000 (S$2,115) for IVF treatment or artificial insemination, which will cost the national coffers around NT$500 million a year.
The other proposal requires the government to offer a subsidy of NT$150,000 per year, and will cost NT$2.2 billion.
Chiu said no matter which program is adopted, the subsidy will be offered to only legally-married infertile couples.
The subsidy will be mainly for IVF treatments and artificial insemination, which cost around NT$120,000 and NT$30,000, respectively, per round. Such treatments are not covered by the national health insurance system, according to Chiu.
According to DOH statistics, more than 6,000 local married couples receive IVF treatment and artificial insemination each year, with some couples receiving multiple treatments in a single year, Chiu said.
The BHP has assessed that the number of IVF and artificial insemination treatments would increase by 50 per cent if the government would subsidise each couple by NT$50,000 a year. The percentage could double if the subsidy is hiked to NT$150,000 per year.
The Ministry of the Interior asked the BHP to assess the efficacy of subsidizing IVF treatment and artificial insemination after Tseng Chi-jui, dean of Taipei Medical University's College of Medicine came up with the proposal recently.
Tseng, an expert in reproductive medicine, said the government's plan to offer child-rearing subsidies for third and subsequent children under two years of age would be less effective in encouraging people to have more children than offering IVF subsidies.
"The government should follow the lead of Japan, South Korea and Singapore and subsidise IVF, which would be far more effective in raising our country's birth rate," Tseng wrote in an article carried in a local newspaper.
BHP's Chiu echoed Tseng's view yesterday, saying that the MOI-proposed incentives to encourage married couples to have second or third children are ineffective because most couples only want one child.
Chiu said she looks forward to an early launch of the subsidy program to help promote child birth.
Taiwan's fertility rate - the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime - has been on a steady decline since reaching 1.6 in 2001. It hit a low of 1.03 in 2009, the world's second lowest, higher only than that of Germany.
A biennial demographic assessment released by the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) in August said the country's fertility rate could drop further to an estimated 0.94 this year because of the traditional superstition that the Year of the Tiger is not a good time for babies to be born.
Taiwan has also lagged behind other major Asian countries in terms of birth rate - the average annual number of births during a year per 1,000 persons in the population.