ANNAPOLIS – Starting today, health insurers, nonprofit health plans and health maintenance organizations in Maryland will be required to pay for hair prostheses for members who have experienced hair loss as a result of cancer treatment.
Insurers will cover up to $350 of the cost of a wig prescribed by a doctor, and members will not have to pay a deductible. Maryland is only the fifth state to have such a mandate.
Esther Karavedas, the general operating manager of the boutique at the General Baltimore Medical Center, helps outfit cancer patients losing their hair with wigs, turbans and head scarves.
While $350 is enough to buy a pre-made synthetic fiber wig, Karavedas said that with this new legislation in place, “more and more (patients) will go for more custom-made items.”
Custom-made, custom-fit, human hair wigs can cost around $2,000. Karavedas said about 20 percent of her customers choose a wig that’s exactly like their own hair.
Pat Bruce, legislative aide to Delegate Mary A. Conroy, D-Bowie, bill sponsor, said the legislation, which kicked around the General Assembly for three years, would have gone through sooner except that, “the insurance companies lobbied against it.”
But Susan Whyte Simon, a representative of the HMO Kaiser Permanente, said, “We didn’t oppose this.”
Kaiser, like many other health insurance companies in Maryland including CapitalCare BlueCross BlueShield and Maryland-Individual Practice Association, didn’t previously cover the cost of wigs for cancer patients.
However, an Aetna U.S. Healthcare representative said the full cost of a wig has been covered with authorization from a doctor, providing that an employer doesn’t exclude it from the benefits plan.
“They should pay for that,” said Barbara Poniatowski. Poniatowski, a nurse and member of the Oncology Nurses Association’s local Greater Baltimore chapter, said, “It’s a very devastating thing for people to lose their hair.”
“Your survival has a lot to do with the way you feel,” said Donna M. Dorsey, executive director of the Maryland Board of Nursing. Dorsey said that it makes patients feel better when they are comfortable with their self image. “We did have a lot of support from the nursing profession,” Bruce said.
Amy Cordaro, owner of Amy of Denmark in Wheaton, sells wigs mostly to clients who have lost their hair through cancer treatments. One of her customers, Susan Klein, is a cancer patient who has just come out of remission. She owns two wigs. Klein said this legislation is a necessity.
“The time has come for insurance companies to own up to it,” said Klein.
Cordaro agreed: “They cover a breast prosthesis, they should cover a hair prosthesis, too.”