Massuchussetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is advocating for Medicare to cover wigs for people who are experiencing hair loss due to medical treatments or disease.
It has been over two years since Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) introduced H.R. 3332, to provide coverage for wigs as durable medical equipment under the Medicare program. This bill would grant increased access to cranial prosthetics and therapies for cancer patients undergoing treatments that cause hair loss, like chemotherapy, or patients affected by alopecia, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own hair follicles. However, H.R. 3332 has been stalled in Congress since its introduction in 2018 until Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley brought attention and her advocacy back to the table.
Congresswoman Pressley (D-MA) announced the reintroduction of the bill, known as the Wig as Durable Medical Equipment Act, on Friday, October 1. It recognizes that while some private insurance companies cover the cost of cranial prosthetics, the often expensive wigs are not covered by Medicare.
In her interview with Vanity Fair, Congresswoman Pressley talked about her experience with hair loss due to alopecia and the emotional toll losing your hair can have on your mind and body.
“When you feel like your body is betraying you and you feel less like yourself—that’s already challenging,” Pressley told the magazine. But “to be bald as a woman really does disrupt conventional and societal norms of what is appropriate, what is professional, what is attractive, what is feminine,” she said. “It’s so much more than cosmetic…. It takes a real toll.”
What this bill could mean for cancer patients?
Though many private insurances cover the cost of wigs, for instance, Aetna, Cigna, Tricare, and ChampVA - to name a few, Medicare does not. As a durable medical equipment supplier, TRS Care has received over 300+ inquiries for a cranial prosthesis from Medicare patients just in the last year, however, they are unable to qualify because Medicare currently does not have provisions for any coverage for a medical wig.
TRS Care is a nonprofit organization that has helped numerous Aetna, Cigna, Tricare, and ChampVA patients qualify for wigs at no out-of-pocket cost. We work with private insurances to verify patients' eligibilities and coverage and file claims on their behalf. Since our Medicare patients are not currently covered under insurance, we have been offering them discounted rates on our wigs, but that is not the ideal solution. We want all our patients experiencing hair loss to be able to receive a medical wig through their insurance. This illness is not something they chose. Wigs for medical hair loss is a medical necessity and should be categorized as such.
“Our bill is responsive and sends a powerful message to these communities: we see you, you belong, and you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Given the few effective treatments of alopecia - which really has no known cause or cure, and the hair loss side effects of chemotherapy which adds on to the emotional distress cancer patients are already going through, a lot of patients choose to wear medical wigs aka cranial prosthesis. “But these prosthetics can be out of reach for people with low or fixed incomes like our seniors,” Pressley notes, with some costing as much as several thousand dollars.
“Every person living with alopecia, battling cancer, or facing another medical condition that leads to hair loss should be able to access wigs and other head coverings,” the congresswoman, herself diagnosed with alopecia, said.
Though this bill was stalled in the past, Congresswoman Pressley's public alopecia journey could help it move forward now.
What can you do to help?
If you would like to support in an effort to get more members of congress to co-sign the Wig as Durable Medical Equipment Act, please sign this petition started by a 17 year old affected by Alopecia Areata.
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