By Kaylee Johnston, Special to the Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER - Impassioned by a Worcester business owner, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, proposed a bill amending Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to assist chemotherapy patients on Medicare with coverage for wigs as “durable medical equipment.”
Bill H.R. 2925, referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and the House Committees Ways and Means on June 15, was inspired by Mary Aframe, founder of the Women’s Image Center located in Worcester and Leominster.
“Hair loss is extremely difficult, and then to hear insurance doesn’t cover the wig, it’s just devastating,” Ms. Aframe said. “You look good, you feel better. It really helps with the psychological impact of the diagnosis.”
The Women’s Image Center, a certified mastectomy fitter accredited by the American Board of Orthotics and Prosthetics, Inc., offers a variety of products to assist women going through cancer treatments cope with the physical changes.
Ms. Aframe founded the center 18 years ago after driving by a sign in Fitchburg announcing the opening of a new cancer center. With her knowledge of the wig industry from her sisters who owned hair replacement businesses in Boston, and her scientific background from her time as a dental hygienist, Ms. Aframe became certified in prosthetics and opened up a small shop.
Some of the products available through the center include wigs, lymphedema management garments and breast prosthesis. They handle insurance billing directly.
“I’ll be at my boutique and it’ll be a daughter or son buying the wig because the mom can’t afford it, and it’s heartwarming, but it should be covered,” she said.
According to Aframe, she had been in contact with McGovern for about 14 years discussing this potential bill, and it finally took shape recently after Ms. Aframe appeared on WBZ radio to talk about Medicare’s coverage for cancer patients.
After her appearance on WBZ with host Laurie Kirby, the conversation sparked up again and brought Ms. Aframe to contact Dr. Robert Quinlan of UMass Memorial as the medical expert to help finalize the wording for the bill.
″(Dr. Quinlan) has had some patients say, ‘I’ll have the mastectomy, I don’t want to lose my hair,’” Ms. Aframe said. “One of the other doctors was telling me, ’At the end of the treatment, when it’s all done I’ll say to the women, ‘What’s the most difficult part?’ and he told me 85 percent said it’s the hair loss. For a lot of women your hair is like your crown.”
According to the American Cancer Society, if hair loss is going to occur, it most often begins within two weeks of chemotherapy and progressively worsens after one to two months.
“Every cancer patient deserves access to quality healthcare that will help them undergo treatment with the support and dignity they need,” McGovern said in a press release. “This bill will help to change that and ensure that every cancer patient who loses their hair can afford a wig and undergo treatment with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Wigs made from real hair require more care and can cost between $800 and $3,000. Synthetic wigs are easy to manage and range from $30 to $500.
Many private insurance companies offer wig coverage. Massachusetts law (ch. 32A,17E; ch. 175, 47T; ch. 176A, 8T; ch. 176B, 4R; ch. 176G, 4J) provides coverage of $350 maximum per calendar year for all those under Massachusetts health insurance going through treatment.
“I feel like on a couple of levels it can help women all across the country going through treatment to feel stronger and confident,” Ms. Aframe said. “Feeling confident in your skin post-treatment is paramount. It will make a difference.”
-Article originally posted on the Telegram & Gazette here