Hair loss can be an unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy for many cancers. Some people may embrace their newly bald head and leave it uncovered, but others are more comfortable with a wig.
Even though hair loss is expected, it is still shocking to see it fall out. Planning for hair loss may help ease this transition. While there are many options for headgear, they all have their pros and cons. It’s helpful to have a wig ready in advance (even if it’s just for a special occasion).
Wigs can be expensive, but when chemotherapy causes hair loss, Medicare may pay for wigs. However, the approval process may not be straightforward.
This article will explain how to apply for wig insurance and what your options are if the insurance doesn’t pay.
How to Get Financial Help for Your Wig
The following steps may help you get a wig covered by your insurance company.
call your health insurance provider
Many private health insurance policies will cover at least part of the cost of the wig. Before buying a wig, call your insurance company and ask about its requirements. The cost of a wig can vary widely, depending on the following factors:
- How the wig is made (using human hair or synthetic material)
- wig quality
A simple synthetic wig may be fully covered, but a human hair wig may cost more and may come with higher out-of-pocket costs.
Wigs 101: Learn about the different options available
use the correct terminology
Insurance coverage usually requires a prescription from an oncologist, but the terminology used on the order is important. Most companies require a prescription using one of the following terms:
- hair prosthesis
- skull prosthesis
- cranial hair prosthesis
- extracranial prosthesis
While the term may sound odd, it’s exactly how insurance companies prefer to label wigs that require chemotherapy. The insurance company may also require you to buy a wig first, send a receipt, and then file a claim.
When you file a claim, you need to know how to classify new hair. Wigs are sometimes referred to as “durable medical supplies.”
keep written records
Copy all documents related to your wig. Keeping a file that contains a copy of all cancer-related expenses can save a lot of time (and money) in the long run. If a claim is delayed or lost, it is easy to resubmit the claim if you still have the information. It may be important to keep the following items:
- Wig prescription from healthcare provider
- wig sales receipt
- A completed insurance claim form
- Any correspondence sent to the insurance company
Get professional help
Some wig shops may assist with insurance claims. If they don’t actually do the filing themselves, they may have a staff member who can help you with the paperwork.
A hospital social worker may offer some helpful tips. Cancer support groups in the community may also be a useful resource. There are many cancer communities online where you can meet other people in similar situations.
While chemotherapy regimens vary based on the type of cancer being treated, a 2019 study found that more than 99 percent of breast cancer survivors who received chemotherapy experienced hair loss. The average time between the first chemotherapy infusion and hair loss was 18 days.
Hair usually begins to regrow within three months of completing chemotherapy. It may be helpful to start the process of finding a wig as early as possible, as it can be a lengthy process and hair loss begins weeks after chemotherapy.
Can You Prevent Chemo-Induced Hair Loss?
Alternatives when insurance doesn’t pay
If you’re in a situation where your insurance doesn’t pay for wigs, or if your insurance covers only a fraction of the wigs you wish to buy, you still have options.
apply for tax deduction
Wearing a wig for someone with hair loss from chemotherapy may be a medical deduction. In this case, saving your receipts can save you tax. Since medical expenses must exceed 7.5 of adjusted gross income to claim the deduction, it doesn’t seem worth keeping track of them. However, many are surprised to see how these costs add up.
Tax relief for cancer patients
Find cheap or free wigs
If you know in advance that insurance won’t help with buying a wig, shop around for cheap wigs. For free donated wigs, please contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. Many other organizations also offer free or discounted wigs, and a cancer center social worker or patient navigator may direct you to appropriate resources.
Hair loss from chemotherapy is a common experience. Hair loss can be painful, and people with hair loss may wish to use a wig some or all of the time. Insurance companies may pay for wigs. Therefore, before buying a wig, check with your insurance company in advance and understand the requirements for filing a claim.
There are ways to get a wig for free if insurance doesn’t pay for it. Contacting a social worker or the American Cancer Society may help get a free wig.
Chemotherapy for hair loss can be stressful. Hair loss can be difficult, but it’s important to remember the purpose – to get rid of cancer in your body. Wigs may make people feel more comfortable in public or at events. However, it’s always okay to embrace baldness.
Coping with hair loss during chemotherapy
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a wig for a cancer patient cost?
The cost of a wig can range from around $30 for a synthetic wig to thousands of dollars for a human hair wig.
Will Medicare or Medicaid pay for wigs for cancer patients?
Medicare does not pay for wigs. However, in some states, Medicaid may cover the cost of wearing a wig for hair loss from chemotherapy.