Military Wives ‘Renting Their Wombs’
The current Newsweek has a cover story on the growth in the use of surrogate births. My wife read it this morning and pointed out a rather bizarre subplot: a large number of the surrogates are military spouses using their health benefits.
In the course of reporting this story, we discovered that many of these women are military wives who have taken on surrogacy to supplement the family income, some while their husbands are serving overseas. Several agencies reported a significant increase in the number of wives of soldiers and naval personnel applying to be surrogates since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Surrogate agencies target the population by dropping leaflets in the mailboxes of military housing complexes, such as those around San Diego’s Camp Pendleton, and placing ads in on-base publications such as the Military Times and Military Spouse. Now surrogate agencies say they are solicited by ad reps from these publications. Military wives who do decide to become surrogates can earn more with one pregnancy than their husbands’ annual base pay (which ranges for new enlistees from $16,080 to $28,900). “Military wives can’t sink their teeth into a career because they have to move around so much,” says Melissa Brisman of New Jersey, a lawyer who specializes in reproductive and family issues, and heads the largest surrogacy firm on the East Coast. “But they still want to contribute, do something positive. And being a carrier only takes a year—that gives them enough time between postings.”
Military wives are attractive candidates because of their health insurance, Tricare, which is provided by three different companies—Humana, TriWest and Health Net Federal Services—and has some of the most comprehensive coverage for surrogates in the industry. Fertility agencies know this, and may offer a potential surrogate with this health plan an extra $5,000. Last year military officials asked for a provision in the 2008 defense authorization bill to cut off coverage for any medical procedures related to surrogate pregnancy. They were unsuccessful—there are no real data on how much the government spends on these cases. Tricare suggests that surrogate mothers who receive payment for their pregnancy should declare the amount they’re receiving, which can then be deducted from their coverage. But since paid carriers have no incentive to say anything, most don’t. “I was told by multiple people—congressional staff, doctors and even ordinary taxpayers—that they overheard conversations of women bragging about how easy it was to use Tricare coverage to finance surrogacy and delivery costs and make money on the side,” says Navy Capt. Patricia Buss, who recently left the Defense Department and now holds a senior position with Health Net Federal Services. The subject of Tricare surrogacy coverage is becoming a hot topic throughout the military world; on Web sites such as militarySOS.com, bloggers with sign-on names such as “Ms. Ordinance” and “ProudArmyWife” fiercely debate the subject.
Unlike the old days, where dependents got “free” health care at on-post hospitals and clinics, they’re now using private doctors and a quasi-private insurance program. So, it’s hard to argue that the taxpayers are funding this. Still, this is the first I’ve heard of there being a virtual cottage industry of military spouses “renting their wombs” for profit.