How to Get Your Health Insurance to Pay for a Wig During Chemo

Steps to ensure your wig is covered and what to do if it isn't

wig shop, what to know about insurance company before you shop
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If you are hoping that your medical insurance will cover your wig during cancer treatment, there are a few things you should know. While most private health insurance companies provide this coverage, it's important that the prescription be written out appropriately (not for a wig) and the way in which it is reimbursed can vary.

Most chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss or thinning, but some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others. Even when your know it will happen, it can still be shocking to see your hair begin to fall out. Planning for hair loss ahead of time may help ease this transition. While there are many options for head covers, they all have their advantages and disadvantages, and having a wig available (even if only for special occasions) ahead of time is helpful.

Fortunately, not only is at least a portion of wig cost usually covered, but there are a number of free options for head covers as well ranging from wigs, to hats, to scarves, and more. The cost of treatment, plus time lost from work when needed, can already place enough stress on your checkbook.

Tips for Getting Financial Help For Your Wig

Taking the following steps can increase the odds that you will get assistance with buying a wig.

Call Your Health Insurance Provider First

Most private health insurance policies will cover at least a percentage of a wig purchase. Before you start wig shopping, call your insurance company and ask about their requirements. The cost of wigs can vary tremendously. Variables in cost may include:

  • Whether you choose a real human hair wig or a synthetic wig
  • The hair style you wish to have
  • The quality of the wig

A simple, synthetic wig may easily be covered completely, whereas you may be responsible for a large percentage of the cost of a designer, human-hair wig from an upper end store.

Prescription Terminology is Important

A prescription from your oncologist is often needed for insurance to cover the cost or part of the cost of a wig, but the terminology is important. Most companies require an order that says "hair prosthesis" or "cranial prosthesis." While this terminology can sound frightening (or maybe just silly), it's just the way that insurance companies prefer to label a chemotherapy-required wig. The insurance company may also require that you purchase the wig first, send in the receipt, and file a claim. When you file the claim, it can also be a bit challenging knowing how to classify your new hair. In some cases, a cranial prosthesis classifies as "durable medical goods."

Keep a Paper Trail

Make copies of all the paperwork related to your wig. This is important when filing for reimbursement and also in the chance your paperwork gets lost during the claim process. Keeping a file with copies of all your cancer-related costs can save a great deal of time (and money) in the long run. If your claim is delayed or goes missing, it's easy to resubmit your claim if you've still got the information. As far as your wig, you should copy and save these items:

  • Your doctor's prescription
  • Sales receipt for your wig
  • Completed insurance claim form
  • Any correspondence you send to the insurance company

Get Help From a Pro

Some of the shops that specialize in wigs for cancer patients will help you file an insurance claim. If they don't actually do the filing for you, they may have a staff person who can coach you through the paperwork. Wig shops differ as do any type of retail business, and some are much more helpful than others. Your hospital social worker may have some thoughts, but often the best resources are cancer support groups or communities in your communities. This doesn't mean you need to run out and find an in-person group immediately. There are a number of cancer communities online through which you can often find people nearby who are facing or have faced similar challenges.

Get Started Early

A frequent tip offered from cancer survivors who "have been there" is to find a wig as early as possible. While chemotherapy regimens differ between cancer, and some people opt for scalp cooling to reduce hair loss, a 2019 study found that over 99 percent of breast cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy experienced hair loss. The average time between the first chemotherapy infusion and hair loss is 18 days, and that of regrowth, 3.3 months after the completion of chemotherapy. If you will be having multiple infusions, this leaves a significant period of time during which a wig may sometimes be desired.

Alternatives When Insurance Doesn't Pay

If you are in a situation in which insurance doesn't pay for a wig, or if your insurance only covers a small percentage of the wig you wish to purchase, there are still options.

Wigs Qualify as a Tax Deduction

Wigs for people who experience hair loss from chemotherapy are considered a legitimate medical deduction. In this case, saving your receipt could save you money come tax time. Since medical expenses must exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income, it may not seem worth it to claim cancer-related deductions. Many people are surprised, however, to see how these expenses add up. Expenses such as mileage for transportation and even acupuncture count, and when you add in the rest of the family (for example, braces, Lasik surgery, and much more) it's sometimes worth the time.

Options for Inexpensive or Free Wigs

If you know in advance that your insurance will not help with a wig purchase, shop around for inexpensive wigs (some costume wigs will do just fine). Contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society about donated wigs that may available to you at no cost. A number of other organizations also offer free or discounted wigs, and a social worker or patient navigator at your cancer center may help direct you to the appropriate source.

A Word From Verywell

Planning for and shopping for a wig before chemotherapy can be stressful, and sometimes reframing the situation is invaluable. Seek out friends who are uplifting and have a sense of humor, and consider making it a special outing. Your friend and friends can try on wigs with you, and give you tips to help you overcome any indecisiveness you have. View it as an opportunity to bond with people who will share your journey with you. And if you feel like you are leaning too hard, or feel guilty that "it's all about you" relax. Friends and loved ones of people facing cancer claim that the worst feeling is that of being helpless. Give those who love you a chance to help you, not only for you, but for them.

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