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Wigs--covered by insurance in many states


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http://www.beaufortgazette.com/24hour/h ... 3659c.html

Conn. bill would require insurance coverage for wigs

Published Thu, Feb 26, 2004

By NOREEN GILLESPIE, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - When Ruth Pulda told her two sons she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, they had a request.

They wanted her to wear a wig. At ages 10 and 13, they didn't want people to stare.

She agreed. But when the chemotherapy treatments began and her hair started falling out strand by strand, eyelash by eyelash, eyebrow by eyebrow, she realized that she needed to wear the wig for herself, too.

"There are places where I just cannot go without my wig," said Pulda, 49, who has never smoked. Her doctors blame the diagnosis on either bad luck, or bad genes.

Pulda got a wig that matched her old hairstyle - a cute, short brown bob - but when she tried to get her medical insurance to cover the cost, she got a letter in the mail saying it wasn't "medically necessary."

A bill in the state legislature would change that. If it passes, it would require insurance companies to cover the cost of wigs for cancer patients up to $350.

Connecticut would become the sixth state to pass such legislation. Laws on the books in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oklahoma also cover wigs for cancer patients to some degree, according to a report from Connecticut's Office of Legislative Research.

"There are times when I just need to appear unchanged," Pulda said. "I need to appear as if I am an everyday mom, an everyday person, and not have my appearance scream cancer patient."

Wigs can run anywhere from about $50 to more than $1,000, depending on if they are made from synthetic or human hair, or a combination. Some insurance plans don't fully cover the cost of chemotherapy, which makes the cost of a wig an extra burden, patient advocates said.

Some organizations provide free wigs to patients. The American Cancer Society's Connecticut chapter runs a wig bank, but it lacks wigs for men and children, said Melissa Petro, the organization's director of government relations.

"When you're not wearing a wig when you lose your hair, it's an open indication of illness," Petro said. "We think it's a vital part of self-esteem."

Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, introduced the bill to the legislature's Insurance and Real Estate Committee. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was curious about why there was no state mandate requiring wig coverage, she said.

"The only argument people give about it is it's an aesthetic thing, a cost thing. To me it's the last thing that it is," Klarides said. "Even after you feel well, it still takes a long time for your hair to get back. It allows people to assimilate back into jobs, into society."

Insurance industry leaders are talking with people who are pushing the bill, hoping to reach common ground, said Keith Stover, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans.

"We're opposed to mandates," Stover said. "We do not like mandates and feel they're a significant driver of cost."

At Yale-New Haven Breast Center, nurse Elspeth Knill-Selby works with uninsured patients, patients on Medicaid and patients with insurance. All patients should have the choice of whether to wear a wig, she said.

"It is important, because they go through a series of losses," she said, such as finding out they have cancer, going through the treatments, then losing hair. If women can maintain an appearance of not appearing ill, "it helps," she said.

Pulda went through all of it.

"You go through so many feelings when you're told that you have cancer - shock, fear, bewilderment," she said. "I certainly went through outrage. This was the only time I felt insulted."

The wig helps her family maintain normalcy, a life that isn't all about cancer for her children. She doesn't want others to go through the same feelings she had when she opened up the letter and read the words "not medically necessary."

"It is not just hair," she said.

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