Side effects are common when a person is undergoing cancer treatment, and they often include hair loss. Original Medicare does not cover the cost of wigs, but there may be other coverage options.
The extent of hair loss varies among individuals, as does its effect on a person’s well-being and self-esteem. Some people may wish to wear a wig during treatment and until the hair grows back afterward. Original Medicare does not cover the cost of wigs, but there may be other coverage options.
We may use a few terms in this piece that can be helpful to understand when selecting the best insurance plan:
- Deductible: This is an annual amount that a person must spend out of pocket within a certain time period before an insurer starts to fund their treatments.
- Coinsurance: This is a percentage of a treatment cost that a person will need to self-fund. For Medicare Part B, this comes to 20%.
- Copayment: This is a fixed dollar amount that an insured person pays when receiving certain treatments. For Medicare, this usually applies to prescription drugs.
Typically, original Medicare does not cover wigs for cancer patients.
Original Medicare includes parts A and B. Part A covers inpatient hospital care, and Part B covers outpatient services.
Original Medicare covers many types of medically necessary cancer treatments. For example, Medicare Part B covers prostheses, such as a breast prosthesis, when they are necessary to restore function or replace a body part. However, original Medicare does not deem wigs medically necessary.
Some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may cover wigs for people with cancer, though.
Private insurance companies administer Medicare Advantage plans. Under Medicare guidelines, these plans must cover at least the same services as original Medicare. Many policies also provide extra benefits, which may include coverage of wigs.
It may be helpful for a person to consider that Medicare Advantage plans vary in their additional coverage. Due to this, some plans may cover wigs, whereas others may not. Some plans that cover wigs may also have a limit on the amount that they will pay. Individuals with a Medicare Advantage plan can contact their plan provider to ask about their coverage.
Specific Medicare Advantage plans may require a doctor’s prescription for a wig. Depending on the plan’s rules, a person may first have to purchase a wig and then submit a claim to their plan provider for reimbursement.
Cancer treatments vary considerably. Some forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may lead to hair loss.
Radiation therapy affects the hair in the treated area. Therefore, a person undergoing radiation therapy to the head and neck region may experience total or partial hair loss.
The American Cancer Society explain that hair loss due to chemotherapy occurs because the drugs that kill the cancer cells also damage the hair follicles. In some cases, the hair only thins, but in other instances, hair loss is extensive and can result in baldness.
The decision to wear a wig is a very personal choice. A person may choose to wear a wig for practical reasons, such as to feel warmer. For others, hair loss could cause a wide variety of emotions, and wearing a wig may help ease the treatment’s effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being.
Some people may choose to wear other head coverings, such as scarves or hats, instead. Others may decide not to cover their head at all.
In all cases, the American Cancer Society offer advice and support to people experiencing hair loss due to their cancer treatment.
Various organizations provide general support for individuals with cancer. Some may also provide information on selecting and caring for wigs, as well as getting financial help to cover the purchase.
- American Cancer Society: Local chapters of the American Cancer Society often have resources to help people with cancer obtain free or low cost wigs. They also provide information and support on selecting and caring for a wig.
- Nonprofit organizations: Various local organizations may provide information on coping with the side effects of cancer treatment, including hair loss. Some nonprofits also provide free wigs to people with cancer. A person can speak with their local treatment center or healthcare provider for more information.
- Local salons: Local salons and stylists can be an excellent resource for general information about selecting and caring for wigs. A stylist may also trim a wig to customize it for an individual.
The cost of wigs varies greatly and can depend on:
- whether the wig is made from real or synthetic hair
- the hairstyle
- the length of the hair
Usually, a wig that a person buys due to experiencing hair loss from cancer treatment is a tax-deductible medical expense.
Additional financial support to help cover the cost of a wig may include help from local wig stores. Some offer discounts to a person buying a wig due to the side effects of cancer treatment. A person’s social worker or healthcare provider can usually offer local advice.
Usually, original Medicare parts A and B do not cover wigs for cancer patients. However, some Medicare Advantage plans might cover the costs.
A person can check their coverage details with their plan provider to confirm that they have a benefit that pays for wigs. There may be a coverage limit for this benefit.
If an individual does not have a Medicare Advantage plan, help to cover the cost of a wig may be available from nonprofit organizations and local resources.