Health & Science

Korean presidential candidate proposed public healthcare for hair loss treatment

The candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea proposed to provide healthcare for hair loss medical treatment.

Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate of the South Korea's Democratic Party
Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate of the South Korea’s Democratic Party | © Chung Sung-Jun/Pool via REUTERS, January 2022

This week, South Korea’s ruling party presidential candidate ignited a debate about public healthcare for hair loss.

The member of the Democratic Party of Korea, Lee Jae-myung, proposed allowing public healthcare insurance to cover hair loss treatment.

He said that almost 10 million Koreans suffer from hair loss, or alopecia for the medical term, but many of them order medicines from overseas or resort to prostate drugs as an alternative due to high treatment costs.

South Korea’s population is approximately 52 million people, which means 1 in 5 of all Koreans would suffer from hair loss. The median age in the country is 44 years old.

According to Reuters, there is no official data on how many South Koreans suffer from hair loss. In 2020, 230,000 people received hospital treatment for this condition according to the National Health Insurance Service.

In 2016, a Korea Times reporter sharing his experience with hair loss wrote that 10 million Koreans suffered from hair loss and the market for drugs and complements reached 3 trillion won (US$2.5 billion) without quoting its sources.

A 2001 study found that the prevalence of alopecia was 14% among Korean men and 6% among Korean women, slightly below the prevalence among Caucasians for instance.

The proposal received support, criticism and mockeries. Critics said it was a populist move.

In a meeting arranged by Lee’s party on January 4, a Korean mother of two explained she gave up her hair loss medical treatment due to costs. It required 4 million won ($3,325) in six months for shampoo and food.

Hair loss

His campaign study cost for public healthcare of alopecia

Lee Jae-myung became a more visible politician as he pushed for universal basic income and aggressive COVID-19 responses during his stint as Gyeonggi province governor, the most populous province in South Korea surrounding Seoul.

In November, a peculiar Korean politician running for the 2022 presidential elections proposed to buy an individual’s phone number receiving thousands of calls daily after the popular Netflix series Squid Game inadvertently disclosed it.

Lee Jae-myung said on Wednesday that hair loss coverage is necessary from the aspect of “body completeness“. His campaign team is studying the potential financial impact of the proposal.

CNN reported in 2020 that dealing with hair loss was new and uneasy among Asians.

A small research in 2002 found that balding men were perceived as being older and less attractive by over 90% of 250 respondents of a questionnaire and suggested alopecia adversely influenced social interactions in Korea.

In 2017, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea considered not to be hired because of baldness was discriminatory. A man could not work at an hotel event because his baldness was considered “unsuitable for the hotel hospitality business” by recruiters. In 2018, the human rights watchdog reiterated that employers should not discriminate job-seekers after a South Korean contended he failed at getting a job at a building facility management because he was bold, and was asked to wear a wig at the job interview.

Read more about South Korea

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