- Wigs and other hair prosthetics can help people feel more like themselves during and after cancer treatment.
- Although wigs may be beneficial for your mental health, they aren’t covered under original Medicare because they aren’t considered medically necessary.
- Some Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans may include coverage for wigs during cancer care.
Hair can be a powerful expression of individual and cultural identity. However, for many people with cancer, radiation and chemotherapy treatments come with hair loss as a side effect.
Treatment may last for several weeks or months. During that time, hair may fall out and regrow more than once.
Although every person’s experience with hair loss is unique, for some people these changes can be distressing — even traumatic. In one older
Hair prosthetics, including wigs, can help you feel more comfortable and confident during treatment and recovery.
Although Medicare will cover much of your cancer treatment, you may have to pay for wigs out of pocket because most Medicare plans don’t cover them.
Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover products or services that are used for aesthetic purposes.
So, as important as wigs and other hair prosthetics may be for maintaining good mental health during cancer care, original Medicare doesn’t pay for the cost of wigs because they aren’t considered medically necessary.
Some private Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans do cover wigs, but guidelines vary from plan to plan.
Medicare Part B covers some prosthetic devices known as durable medical equipment.
Certain prosthetics are considered medically necessary because they replace a body part or contribute to the healthy functioning of your body. These include:
- ostomy bags
- breast implants following breast cancer surgery
- surgical bras
- cochlear implants
However, Medicare doesn’t classify wigs as medically necessary prosthetics, even when they’re prescribed by your doctor and described as “cranial prosthetics.”
Coverage with Medicare Advantage
Medicare Advantage plans are private insurance plans, and some of these plans may cover wigs prescribed by your doctor.
To find out whether your Medicare Advantage plan covers the cost of one or more wigs, you can check your plan documents or talk with your plan administrator or benefits coordinator.
If you’re thinking about signing up for a Medicare Advantage plan, you may want to confirm that your new plan provides coverage for wigs if this benefit is important to you.
It’s a good idea to request any statements about coverage in writing before you make any final decisions about which plan to choose.
What about Medigap?
Medicare supplement (Medigap) policies are private insurance plans that help you pay your portion of the costs for Medicare-approved items and services.
Because wigs are not approved by Medicare, a Medigap plan can’t help you pay for them.
Cancer treatment can be costly, even when you have Medicare. The good news is that a number of national charitable organizations can help you find free or low cost wigs.
Here are a few resources you can contact:
To keep your costs down, consider these additional tips:
- Choose a synthetic wig, which is usually more affordable than human hair options, then have it trimmed by a stylist.
- Look for a synthetic wig that can be heat-styled so you can make the look your own.
- Consider shopping at an online retailer, where costs may be lower than in brick-and-mortar wig shops.
- Talk with your employee benefits coordinator, local cancer support groups, and faith-based organizations to find out what resources are available to help in your area.
What else do I need to know about hair loss?
- Hair will usually regrow. For most people, hair will grow back in 2 to 6 months.
- Be gentle with yourself. Post-treatment hair may be finer than it once was. Soft-bristled brushes, less frequent washing, and careful styling may be a good idea for a while.
- Enjoy variety. Scarves, hats, turbans, and other head coverings may give your scalp a break from wearing wigs all the time and provide another option for self-expression.
- Talk about it. If hair loss is adding to the stress of cancer care, it may help to vent, fume, cry — and even make jokes — with people you trust. A journal may also be a great place to process your feelings.
For many people who’ve had cancer treatment, wearing wigs is one part of their overall self-care strategy.
Even though wigs may benefit your mental health if you have hair loss, Medicare doesn’t consider them medically necessary. That’s why original Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of wigs.
Some Medicare Advantage plans may help pay for wigs during cancer treatment, so it’s a good idea to check your plan’s benefits to see if they’re covered before you purchase a wig.
To find free or affordable wigs, reach out to one of the national charitable organizations that help people access wigs and head coverings during cancer treatment. You may find that local organizations and online retailers have options for you as well.
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