Shared-risk programs are designed to let you “share the risk” of costs with the fertility clinic. It usually only applies for IVF cycles, and not other forms of treatment or testing.
The typical way a shared-risk program works is that you pay, in full and up front, a certain reduced fee in exchange for a particular number of fertility procedures and cycles (usually three to five cycles). The promise is that if you have not given birth by the end of the number of cycles initially agreed upon, all or a portion of your money is refunded to you. The amount of money refunded to you may depend on how many cycles you actually completed.
If you do get pregnant, carry that baby to term, and give birth to a live infant, even if after only one cycle, you do not get any of your money back. The fertility clinic keeps the rest of the money that you gave them, even though you only needed one cycle of treatment.
To enter a shared-risk program you will usually have to meet certain criteria. You will probably have to be within a certain age. You may have to have a certain need for treatment, like IVF. And certain diagnoses may exclude you from participation in these programs.
In essence, you are banking on the fact that it is likely to take more than one cycle to get pregnant. If you do get pregnant on the first try, you have spent more money than you would have had you only paid for a single cycle. But if you do not get pregnant even after several cycles, you have lost no money, or at least considerably less money than you would have spent if not for the shared-risk program. Different clinics handle the particulars of the “refund” differently, so be sure you understand fully what your clinic's specific program entails.
You may also be expected to pay additional money for certain procedures. If you require ICSI or the use of donor eggs, you may need to pay more money into your cycle. You may know this up front, or your doctors may discover it as late as the day of your retrieval. Be sure to ask questions about these potential additional fees.
How can I find a clinic that has a shared-risk program?
Not all fertility clinics offer shared-risk programs. If you are interested in the shared-risk concept, ask around to find out what center closest to you participates in this type of program. Many couples actually travel great distances to take part in shared-risk cycles at fertility clinics that are far away from their homes.