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

Hair loss can be an unfortunate side effect of many chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Some people may embrace their newly bald head and leave it uncovered, but others are more comfortable wearing a wig.

Display in a wig shop
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Even when hair loss is expected, it can still be shocking to see it fall out. Planning for hair loss may help ease this transition. While there are many options for head covers, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Having a wig available (even if only for special occasions) ahead of time is helpful.

Wigs can be expensive, but medical insurance may cover the cost of a wig when hair loss is caused by chemotherapy. The approval process may not be a simple one, though.

This article will explain how you can request coverage for a wig and what your options are if insurance won't pay.

How to Get Financial Help for Your Wig

The following steps may be helpful in getting a wig covered by your insurance company.

Call Your Health Insurance Provider

Many private health insurance policies will cover at least part of the cost of a wig. Before wig shopping, call the insurance company and ask about its requirements. The cost of wigs can vary tremendously, depending on the following factors:

  • How the wig is made (with real human hair or synthetic materials)
  • The hairstyle
  • The quality of the wig

A simple, synthetic wig may be covered completely, but the cost of a human hair wig may be more expensive and may come with a higher out-of-pocket cost.

Use the Right Terminology

A prescription from the oncologist is often needed for insurance coverage, but the terminology used on the order is important. Most companies require a prescription that uses one of the following terms:

  • Hair prosthesis
  • Cranial prosthesis
  • Cranial hair prosthesis
  • Extra-cranial prosthesis

Though this terminology may sound strange, 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, you will need to know how to how to classify your new hair. Sometimes a wig is called "durable medical goods."

Maintain a Paper Trail

Make copies of all the paperwork related to your wig. Keeping a file with copies of all cancer-related costs can save a great deal of time (and money) in the long run. If the claim is delayed or goes missing, it's easy to resubmit the claim if you've still got the information. The following items can be important to keep:

  • The healthcare provider's wig prescription
  • Sales receipt for the wig
  • Completed insurance claim form
  • Any correspondence sent to the insurance company

Get Professional Help

Some wig shops may be able to assist with the insurance claim. If they don't actually do the filing themselves, they may have a staff person who can help you fill out the paperwork.

A hospital social worker may have some helpful tips. Cancer support groups in the community may be a helpful resource as well. There are many cancer communities online through which you can meet others who have been in similar situations.

Get Started Early

While chemotherapy regimens differ according to the type of cancer being treated, a 2019 study found that over 99% of breast cancer survivors who underwent chemotherapy experienced hair loss. The average time between the first chemotherapy infusion and hair loss is 18 days.

Hair typically begins growing back within three months of completing chemotherapy. Getting started early on the process of finding a wig can be helpful since it can be a long process and hair loss starts just a few weeks after chemotherapy is given.

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, you still have options.

Claim a Tax Deduction

Wigs for people who experience hair loss from chemotherapy may be a medical deduction. In this case, saving the receipt could save you money on taxes. Since medical expenses must exceed 7.5 of adjusted gross income before you can claim a deduction, it may not seem worthwhile to keep track of them. Many people are surprised, however, to see how these expenses add up.

Find Inexpensive or Free Wigs

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

Summary

Hair loss from chemotherapy is a common experience. Losing hair can cause distress, and someone with hair loss may want to use a wig some or all of the time. Insurance companies may cover the cost of a wig. So, check with your insurer in advance before wig shopping, and find out the requirements for filing your claim.

If insurance doesn't cover the cost, there are ways to get free wigs. Contacting a social worker or the American Cancer Society can be helpful in getting a free wig.

A Word From Verywell

Losing hair from chemotherapy is very stressful. It can be difficult to lose your hair, but it's important to remember the purpose—to get rid of the cancer in your body. A wig may make someone feel more comfortable being out in public or attending events. However, it's always OK to embrace the bald.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does a wig cost for cancer patients?

    The cost of a wig can be anywhere from around $30 for a synthetic wig to thousands of dollars for a human hair wig.

  • Do Medicare or Medicaid pay for wigs for cancer patients?

    Medicare does not pay for the cost of a wig. However, in some states, Medicaid may cover the cost of a wig for hair loss from chemotherapy.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Hair Loss (Alopecia) and Cancer Treatment.

  2. Breastcancer.org. Wigs.

  3. American Cancer Society. Choosing and Wearing a Wig.

  4. Watanabe T, Yagata H, Saito M, et al. A multicenter survey of temporal changes in chemotherapy-induced hair loss in breast cancer patients. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0208118. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208118

  5. Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 502 Medical and Dental Expenses.

  6. Breastcancer.org. Wigs.

  7. American Cancer Society. Choosing and wearing a wig.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process