Bill would mandate insurance coverage of wigs

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 24, 2015

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LANSING — Although Wigs 4 Kids provides wigs and other services, free of charge, to children who lose their hair because of a medical issue or through treatment for a medical issue, there are so many more children in need of wigs than are cared for by the St. Clair Shores-based charity and salon.


“Everybody can’t get access,” said Wigs 4 Kids founder and CEO Maggie Varney. “Some of our kids and families that want to come here, we have to send them gas cards so they can come here and pick up a wig for free.”


But there are hair restoration centers located throughout the state that could provide wigs for children who need them because of alopecia or because of a battle with cancer, she said. The problem is that those centers charge up to $3,000 for a wig because it is so labor-intensive to craft one, which many families cannot afford.


In some states, however, health insurance will pick up part of or all of the tab for a wig.


And now Varney and state Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, want to make that happen for Michigan children, as well.


On June 11, Roberts invited Varney and Miss Spirit of the State Jaeleen Davis to help her introduce House bill 4718 in the state Legislature, which would give insurance companies a mandate to help cover the costs associated with providing wigs to Michigan children who need them.


Davis, 20, has had alopecia since she was 8 years old and competes in pageants, including the upcoming Miss Michigan pageant, with a wig. Her platform is Wigs 4 Kids and promoting positive self-esteem in children.


“Jaeleen has been in the program for 10 years,” Varney said. “What more perfect time would it be (to introduce the legislation) ... when we have a young person wearing a wig who lives with it every day and understands the challenges and can speak about it.”


Roberts said that, if the bill passed, it would just be an added coverage under all insurance plans.


“Prosthetics are covered under insurance already,” she said. “A wig is a hair prosthetic. It should be covered the same as any other prosthetic.”


Roberts said the bill doesn’t mandate how much insurers have to pay toward a wig — it just says that it cannot be covered any less than any other prosthetic.


“It’s tough enough being a child and growing up and wanting to fit in and just look like any other kid,” Roberts said. “When a child doesn’t have any hair through a medical condition or the treatment of a medical condition ... it’s not their fault, and there is psychological and emotional and social distress that goes along with that.”


That can lead to anxiety or depression, she said.


“Prescription drugs to cover that anxiety and depression would be covered (by insurance), so why not just cover the wigs?” she said.


Now, Roberts said, the bill has been sent to the House Insurance Committee, and she and other supporters will have to lobby for it to get a hearing. She said it already has bipartisan support, however.


Varney said she was pleased with the positive bipartisan response.


“This is our government at work, and this is what it’s really about. It’s about serving the people and taking care of the people,” she said.


For more information, email Roberts at sroberts@house.mi.gov. To lobby for a hearing on the bill, contact the chair of the Insurance Committee, Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt Township, at tomleonard@house.mi.gov.

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