Does Medicare Cover Wigs for Cancer Patients?

Hair can be a unique expression of someone’s style, cultural identity even their personality. As a very personal and important part of one’s identity, it’s understandable why cancer patients find hair loss uncomfortable and jarring when they begin to experience it after starting cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. 

Medicare Benefits Solutions

May 13, 2021

 4 minutes read

According to research, some cancer patients feel that they become less attractive without hair and with each strand that falls out, so leaves a part of their individuality. In addition, being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment comes with so much trepidation as it is. So for many, adding the side effect of hair loss can be traumatizing.  

Doctors may prescribe wearing a wig or some other hair prosthetics for those patients who feel they will lose a part of themselves with hair loss from chemo and radiation. Wigs for cancer patients can help them maintain or reclaim self-confidence. It can also make it easier for them to feel comfortable while continuing vigorous treatments and during their recovery. 

How to Handle Cancer-Related Hair Loss

People may lose their hair while receiving chemotherapy drugs because of the drug’s dosage and the duration of the patient’s treatment with them. The side effect of hair loss is also likely to occur when patients have radiation that concentrates primarily on their heads. 

You may notice your hair thinning or fallen hairs around the second to fourth weeks after starting chemo or radiation. However, cancer-related hair loss is not a permanent thing. Instead, it is temporary—lasting the extent of time a person undergoes treatments. Typically, a patient’s hair grows back within a few months after treatment is over. 

The rate at which a person loses hair is not something that anyone can predict. Another thing that is patient-specific is the actuality of complete hair loss. There’s no guarantee that every cancer patient will lose the entirety of their head’s hair. Some people’s experience is only a thinning of their hair.

In cases when a patient has hair loss, or there’s a known likelihood that a patient will, the American Cancer Society suggests that patients take preemptive action and shave their head bald before a complete disappearance of hair occurs. By taking this approach, the patient wouldn’t have to gradually watch all their hair go, avoid the sight of their hair coming out in lumps or wake up to the unpleasantness of seeing hairs on their pillow after they’ve come out during the night. Not only is the entire process of losing hair displeasing to watch as it plays out once it starts, but it can be uncomfortable and can be itchy.

Preparation for Wig-Wearing

For some patients, it helps to know ahead of time if they will experience hair loss from chemotherapy and radiation to prepare for the transition to wearing wigs. Preparation could mean:

  • Photographing yourself as you are now, still with your natural hair in its typical style. That way, you have a point of reference when you’re looking at wigs and can compare different style options.
  • Cutting off a sample size of your hair to match wig colors to your regular hair color. Taking the hair swatch for comparison to the wig in different lighting, including outdoor versus indoor lighting, can ensure as much as possible that it’s undetectable you’re wearing a wig. 
  • Measuring the circumference of your head when it’s dry and lying flat and when wet, so you can get a wig with an adjustable band that can adapt to changes in your head circumference, especially to its size when the hair is gone. 

Medicare Benefits for Recipients with Cancer Who Need Wigs

Your doctor may prescribe a hair prosthetic like a wig or other cranial prosthetics for hair loss experienced while receiving cancer treatments. Medicare Part B covers many prosthetic devices known as durable medical equipment or DME. There are Medicare benefits to cover the costs of these devices because of their medical necessity. They often replace a body part or play a significant role in the proper functioning of a person’s body. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to hair prosthetics like wigs, Medicare doesn’t deem them medically necessary and will not cover the cost. However, some Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurance companies provide wig coverage for recipients with a doctor’s prescription. 

To determine if your Medicare Advantage plan has this particular benefit and find out your associated shared cost responsibilities, make sure you contact a benefits coordinator or plan administrator for more information. You can also review any plan documents that the plan’s insurance sent you. 

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