On September 30, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. James McGovern introduced a bill that would require Medicare to cover wigs for those experiencing hair loss due to medical treatments or disease.
Pressley has opened up about her own dealings with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that makes the body attack its own healthy hair follicles and causes baldness, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Nearly 7 million Americans experience alopecia. “To be bald as a woman really does disrupt conventional and societal norms of what is appropriate, what is professional, what is attractive, what is feminine,” she told Vanity Fair. “It’s so much more than cosmetic…. It takes a real toll.”
Alopecia has no known cause or cure and many turn to medical wigs, which can cost thousands of dollars, to cover their hair loss. ‘These prosthetics can be out of reach for people with low or fixed incomes like our seniors,” said Pressley. The bill would make medical wigs a durable medical equipment covered under the Social Security Act.
McGovern, the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, had introduced the bill in 2018, before Pressley took office as Massachusetts’s first African American woman to be elected to Congress. “This is about basic human dignity and respect,” he said.
A 2019 study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that African Americans have alopecia at higher rates than other racial groups. Pressley’s own experience could help move this bill forward. “Often people have just not understood a bill and when they hear that testimony or that story, it shifts,” Pressley told Vanity Fair. She recalled early debates surrounding breast-reconstruction surgery, which wasn’t covered by insurance until “enough people amplified their stories.”
“Every person living with Alopecia, battling cancer, or facing another medical condition that leads to hair loss, should be able to access wigs and other head coverings,” Pressley said in a press release. “Our bill is responsive and sends a powerful message to these communities: we see you, you belong, and you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Photo Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES