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Mountain View High School Student Inspires Berman Bill

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO - Today Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) announced the introduction of AB 2668, which provides health insurance coverage for wigs or hairpieces for Californians experiencing medical hair loss due to health conditions, including alopecia areata.

“I’m so grateful to Miranda and her peers for sharing their stories about the benefit that wigs had in helping them reclaim their confidence and identity, and the critical role wigs play in self-esteem and mental health,” said Assemblymember Berman. “I am honored to partner with them to author AB 2668 to ensure that Californians who have alopecia areata or other medical hair loss have access to wigs as part of their treatment. I commend their courage to speak up and raise awareness to the lack of health insurance coverage for such a vital treatment.”

“Hair is never just hair. We wear it like clothes, and it is a part of our identity. I have alopecia areata and my self-esteem continues to be impacted when bald patches appear. Often, I resent seeing myself in family photos, and through competitive dance, attention to my lack of hair is heightened,” said Miranda Huang, a Mountain View High School student with alopecia areata. “A wig is important because it enables me to feel confident in my skin and not be reduced by a disease’s label. Californians with medical hair loss need this bill and I thank Assemblymember Berman for authoring it.”

"Hair is a critical part of how we think of ourselves and express ourselves to the world. When patients lose their hair to alopecia areata, they often tell me they no longer recognize themselves in the mirror,” said Dr. Jennifer Fu, UCSF Dermatologist. “Too often, our school-aged patients are bullied at school, become socially isolated, and withdraw from previously loved extracurricular activities. The burden of this disease, its psychosocial consequences and economic impact, can be devastating."

“I have been dealing with alopecia for the past 14 years. I was diagnosed with this condition when I was just three years old, and ever since then, it has been a rollercoaster ride for me. It was challenging to cope with this physical change at such a young age, significantly impacting my self-esteem. Over the last 15  years, I have tried multiple treatments for my alopecia. It was frustrating to go through various medications and procedures only to find temporary or minimal success. All this significantly impacted my academic life, and I consider it a victory that I kept my academics focused despite these severe distractions. This experience showed me that although alopecia may not be life-threatening, it brings immense social, physical, and mental strain to patients, leading to many mental health issues. One of the struggles I faced was the cost of alopecia wigs. These wigs, often necessary for patients like me, are expensive. Additionally, insurance coverage is not applicable for wigs for alopecia, even though they are covered for other more established situations such as chemotherapy. The healthcare system's high costs and lack of support for alopecia patients exacerbate our challenges in finding solutions,” said Saratoga-based Monta Vista High School student Mihir Sharma.

“When I first lost my hair, I was terrified of looking different. I had heard that good wigs cost lots of money,” said Georgia Van Cuylenburg, a Los Angeles resident with alopecia areata. “A year later, my parents helped me with the cost of the wig and I was able to get a wig that looked like my old hair. I cried when I saw myself in the mirror for the first time – I looked like me again. Had it been possible that the wig could have been covered by my insurance maybe I would have got this wig much sooner.”

Sponsored by the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, AB 2668 would provide coverage for a wig if a licensed provider prescribes the wig for treatment for a diagnosed health condition, chronic illness, or injury, including but not limited to alopecia areata. The bill would limit coverage to no more than one wig in a year and limit the amount to $750. The cost of wigs depend on a number of factors including length and the average cost is approximately $1,500.

Currently, seven states provide coverage for wigs. Minnesota and New Hampshire specifically provide coverage for individuals with alopecia areata. Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island provide coverage for individuals with cancer.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss. People with alopecia areata most often lose hair in circular, coin-sized patches on the scalp, but in more severe cases, they may lose all of their hair. About 700,000 people in the U.S. currently have some form of alopecia areata, with 80,000 in California alone. Although alopecia areata can begin at any age, individuals often develop the disease early in life. In fact, 40% of individuals experience symptoms by age 20. Research suggests that women are more likely to develop alopecia areata than men. Several U.S.-based studies found the odds of developing alopecia areata were higher among Asian, Black, and Hispanic individuals than among white individuals. Some of the most common emotions associated with having alopecia areata include loneliness, withdrawal, isolation, loss and grief, sadness (which can lead to depression), confusion, denial, stress, anger, hopelessness, embarrassment, fear, and guilt or self-blame.