How a Mountain View High School student inspired medical hair loss legislation

Lauren Martinez Image
Thursday, February 22, 2024
How a Bay Area high school student inspired hair loss legislation
A proposed California bill would provide health insurance coverage for wigs and a South Bay high school student affected by alopecia areata is credited behind the effort.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A proposed California bill would provide health insurance coverage for wigs, and a South Bay high school student is credited behind the effort.

People of all ages are affected by alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

Supriya Surender was diagnosed when she was 30 years old.

"I think the most surprising thing was how quickly it happened for me. Everybody's journey is different but for me I lost all of my hair in a three month time span, I lost my eyebrows the year following," Surender said.

Surender said the diagnosis was jarring.

"You know a lot of times people will say to you - oh it's just hair, at least it's just hair it's nothing else. But the truth of it is- it's so much more than just hair. It is a piece of your physical identity," Surender said.

When she was 35-years-old she wanted to take that dark time of her life, and share her hair loss journey online so others wouldn't feel alone.

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"When I started @BaldieBoo, I really wanted to try help a least one person feel a little less alone, in their struggle and feel connected to somebody. But I didn't expect to happen is to be so inspired by this community," Surender said.

Surender is applauding a new California bill that would provide health insurance coverage for wigs.

"There's so much to navigate in that world so I think it's important for people to show support for this bill because you never know when it's going to be you," Surender said.

On Wednesday, Assemblymember Marc Berman said the bill was inspired by Mountain View High School student Miranda Huang.

"On one hand it was really amazing to see that I was a part of something as big as this," Huang said. "But I also don't think I could've come as far or done the work I have been doing without my peers."

Huang said it all started last July when she attended a conference through the National Alopecia Areata Foundation with her mom.

Huang was introduced to an advocacy group and learned about legislation work. From there she reached out to Assemblyman Berman.

"I along with another high school senior Mihir Sharma, who lives in Saratoga, we discussed our stories with alopecia areata and how it had impacted our social lives," Huang said.

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Huang said she was first diagnosed with a form of patchy alopecia areata when she was 11 years old.

"I think the biggest way it impacted me was because my hair would obviously be lost in these coin shaped patches and it would be really obvious to people who I was meeting with for the first time because around that time I was entering middle school," Huang said.

If passed, the bill would provide coverage of $750 for one wig a year for individuals experiencing medical hair loss.

"I remember being really heartbroken at the conference that I was last at and seeing so many people feel disempowered," Huang said. "Feeling very stuck in their situation and not knowing where to go either because they were economically disadvantaged or they just didn't want to be who they were and embrace this disease."

Dermatologists say this insurance coverage is needed.

Natasha Mesinkovska is the Vice Chair of Clinical Research for the Department of Dermatology at UC Irvine.

"Anytime you lose hair it's not just a cosmetic thing, you're not healthy so it's a medical condition," Mesinkovska said.

Currently seven states provide coverage for wigs for individuals with alopecia areata or those with cancer.

"The majority of patients will not get their hair back, the ones that lose it all, and its not just the scalp hair," Mesinkovska said. "I know most of us don't miss our body hair, but it's the eyebrows, the eyelashes it's the things in a way makes someone's identity. That's what a lot of people who are affected would say you know when I look in the mirror- I can't recognize who I am."

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