Easing dignity's burdens

Crusade: A Perry Hall businesswoman pushes through a state law to give cancer patients who have suffered hair loss a break on the cost of wigs.

June 16, 2000|By Mia D. McNeil | Mia D. McNeil,SUN STAFF

Loretta Bullen watched large sections of her silverish-gray hair tumble to the floor in April as she combed, brushed or even ran her fingers through it.

"It all came out in two weeks because of the chemotherapy," said Bullen, 78, who is being treated for breast cancer. "I didn't want to look like a baldy. "

Yesterday, Bullen, a Gardenville resident, and other cancer patients joyously cut a pink and white sheet cake to celebrate a new state law that will give cancer patients who have suffered hair loss a $350 break on buying wigs. The celebration was yesterday because it was the best time for all the parties involved in the effort to meet.

Charlotte Turner, owner of Charlotte's Hair Line Inc., 8710 Honeygo Blvd. in Perry Hall, began a campaign to give cancer patients less to worry about by trying to reduce the cost of wigs.

The first step was exempting the wigs from the state sales tax. Eight years ago, Turner persuaded state Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat, to sponsor a bill to do that, and it became law.

Next, "I begged them to put a bill in to cover wigs for cancer patients," Turner said. "I thought they would forget it."

They didn't.

This year, Collins and another Baltimore County Democrat, state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, sponsored a bill that would cover the cost of hair prostheses, up to $500, for hair loss resulting from chemotherapy or radiation treatment. That bill was passed but was vetoed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening after he signed a similar bill sponsored by House Democrats Mary A. Conroy and Joan B. Pitkin of Prince George's County, Mary Ann Love of Anne Arundel County and Brian K. McHale of Baltimore.

The measure, which will become law Oct. 1, requires specified insurers, nonprofit health service plans and health maintenance organizations to provide $350 coverage for a hair prosthesis for an enrollee or insured person who has lost hair because of chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The wig must be prescribed by the patient's cancer specialist and must be bought after Oct. 1.

"It makes shivers go up my spine, because we've been waiting so long," Turner said.

Turner's daughter, Holly Grichuin, who will eventually take over her mother's wig business, foresees good things from the law.

Wigs can be expensive, from $169 to $1,000.

"It's a big burden off of these cancer patients," she said. "They won't have to lose their dignity by begging family and friends for money."

Bullen said, "If insurance will cover Viagra for men to get their jollies and birth control for women, surely they can help us for losing our hair."

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