Dear Mr. Hemsley

June 28, 2016

Dear Mr. Hemsley (CEO of United Health Care),

My name is Grace Lombardo and I am a 36 year old mother, daughter, sister, wife & friend. In April of 2016, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and widespread DCIS- breast cancer. You should know that outside of this recent diagnosis, I am very healthy and take care of myself. I exercise, eat reasonably well. I have never smoked, or abused alcohol or drugs.

I feel very lucky that in our current muddled up healthcare system, I have always had health insurance through either my employer or my husband’s employer. As an American, I understand that this country sees health care as more of a ‘luxury’ than a right. I understand that I should feel lucky to be insured.

Today I called the 800 phone number on the back of my United Health Care card to ask a question I hoped I would never have to ask. After multiple prompts, I was patched through to a representative who sounded very kind and ready to help me. Even though I knew exactly why I was calling, when she asked me what she could help me with, I froze. I couldn’t figure out how to get the words out of my mouth.

“I was wondering, um, if you could help me figure out, if under my plan, I am covered for a cranial prosthesis…?”

The kind woman on the other end of the line’s voice changed. She had my personal information in front of her. She knew I was 36. She knew I had cancer. She knew she was about to tell me that, no, I was not covered to get a wig.

She was sad for me. She was embarrassed to tell me that her employer, my insurer, does not consider my hair a part of my body. That losing my hair, making me bald and immediately recognizable as a person with a disease was not something of any value.

She knew this was a dead end, but she, as a empathetic and caring human, told me she wanted to research the issue further and asked if I could hold for 4-7 minutes.


She comes back onto the line sounding slightly more upbeat. “Mrs. Lombardo, I did find that there is a ‘Women’s Health Care Act’ from 1998 that states that no woman should be denied a cranial prosthesis, but the verbiage around how we interpret that is unclear so I am going to have to give you a case manager to advance the issue.”

I felt so badly for her. She wanted to help me. She suggested that I ask my oncologist to contact the insurance company asking for a ‘benefit exemption’ or a ‘predetermination.’ I scribbled these terms down on a napkin and promptly contacted my oncologist’s office to have them send the inquiry. Below is the email I got back from the nurse not even 2 hours later.

Mr. Hemsley, I can afford a wig. I can actually afford a couple of wigs if I wanted to. Cost is not the issue here. The issue is that a corporation is telling me what is a part of my body and what isn’t. What appendages I was born with hold value, and which don’t.

I needed a mastectomy to live, and I am so grateful that your company paid for that without hesitation. I do not need my hair to live. I will survive with or without a wig from you or anyone else, but how long is appropriate for you to deny me an appendage that I will lose as cancer is poisoned out of my body? How many days of me feeling and looking ill without a stitch of hair on my head as a giant, flashing, neon sign alerting the world that I am fighting a deadly disease, will translate to your firm as a net-gain in profits?

I ask you this, Mr. Hemsley: what would it cost you to walk through a crowded mall with your wife/daughter/sister/mother, bald as a bat, being stared at and pitied by every other passerby? Would you be comfortable with the fact that the absence of hair is her scarlet letter? Has she not suffered enough indignity at the hands of a disease that has already taken a small piece of her soul, something you cannot replace?

Your move, United Health Care.




23 Comments Add yours

  1. arafatkazi says:

    This made me angry. It’s so stupid. Ugh.


  2. arafatkazi says:

    I mean seriously I am just thinking of the people who can’t afford a wig and nobody should go through that.


  3. arafatkazi says:

    Big hugs sister.


  4. Stephanie says:

    I hope you sent this ! Insurance is such a beaucratic craziness!!


  5. Katrina Corbett says:

    As always, you RULE. xoxoxox


  6. Michelle Ramirez says:

    Thank you for writing this. I was also diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and discovered that a wig was not covered under my insurance. It’s up setting that the insurance company would pay for my breasts to look normal after having a mastectomy but wouldn’t pay for my head to look normal. Hopefully some day people who are battling this horrible disease will be covered to get a fabulous wig of their choice.


  7. I applaud you for this! It took me over 8 months to battle two insurance companies to cover my hairpiece. It included endless hours of phone calls, letters, forms, etc. In the end though, I was reimbursed for half of the cost. This is NOT something we should need to fight for – aren’t we going through enough? Yes, like you, I am fortunate enough to have insurance, but as you say, that is not the issue. And yes, my major medical procedures and care have been covered, but again, that is not the issue here. I also hope that you sent this, but regardless, I love this post. Thank you for it! xoxoxo


  8. MaryKate says:

    I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this post just a couple of hours after I got off the phone with my insurance company inquiring about wig coverage (I too stumbled with my words). Though my experience was different. I also have United Healthcare, and my wig, thankfully, will be covered. The wig is covered under my firm’s insurance plan, a decision that was made by HR and management (I know because I am involved in these decisions). You should reach out to your (or your husband’s) HR department and see if they can reconsider or change the coverage for this. Perhaps it was just an oversight when they originally set up the plan. Or perhaps the person who made the decision is no longer with the firm and their replacement might want to cover wigs, but never thought to look into it. It’s worth a shot. It might not be a change that comes in time for your wig, but maybe for the next person.


  9. Jessie Schwartz says:

    Bravo Grace, you speak for so many women!


  10. Julie Zuckerman says:

    Hi Grace! We have never met, but I came across your blog via friends on Facebook. You are truly an inspiration to all. I aplaud and appreciate how honest and upfront you are about the experiences you are going through. You are an extremely gifted writer and you are truly making a difference in the lives of others by being so candid. Cancer totally sucks! There are no ifs, ands or buts. Thank you so much for sharing your story and keeping it real. Hang in there and keep fighting the fight.


  11. Julie Urban says:

    I am so sorry you are going through this mess with your insurance company. As if you don’t have enough to deal with. I know your issue is with United Healthcare and I hope they come to their senses. But, in case they don’t…I got a free, yes, FREE wig from the American Cancer Society. They had a wig boutique in my hospital (Northwest Community Hospital-Arlington Heights, Illinois). Perhaps you can find one near you. Blessings to you and thank you for speaking out for the rest of us!


  12. Kate Kirley says:

    I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, and this is a great letter. But can I make a suggestion? Address this to the CEO of you or your husband’s employer. They are the purchaser of your insurance policy, and they typically drive what is covered by your plan. The insurance company is simply responding to the needs of their clients, namely your employer. They more employers ask for this coverage, the more insurance companies will start to do it.


  13. Silva J says:

    I’m sorry when I read about young women or anybody diagnosed with any type of cancer…..all victims to the food industry and the pharmaceutical giants!
    Please look at the big picture! Search outside of US where imunotherapy is legal! I have read that in Getmany, for example, one month of treatment is about 20k including room and board. Usually aftet the initial treatment period they send you home and you continue taking inexpensive stuff that they give you.
    Also 1 drop of cannabis oil per day will be very beneficial!
    Wishing you long healthy life! Will pray gor you!


  14. Alicia says:

    I too was diagnosed at 34 years of age… I decided to do penguin cold caps to freeze my hair. Of course that isn’t covered either… The joys of battling insurance companies. Good for u for speaking your mind!


  15. Nancy says:

    So impressed with your letter. It’s outrages that in 2016 we are arguing over wigs. Our hair is part of our identity. I hate to say this but this was probably written by a man who doesn’t understand. Until this happens to you or your family member you don’t understand. Keep up the great work your an inspiration to other woman.


  16. I was wondering if you really sent this letter and if you got a response? My daughter had the same problem and I fought with UHC for months and got nowhere.


  17. Nicki says:

    My 2 1/2 year old son was just recently diagnosed with autism and has a language delay. I work for a health care system and my insurance covers 20 visits of speech therapy per year, but none for the diagnosis of autism. We have to pay for all of it out of pocket! It is very frustrating! We definitely need insurance reform! Best wishes on your recovery


  18. Vp says:

    I have United and I was also denied coverage for a wig . They jerked me around for 8 months. They kept on having me resubmit receipts and doctors notes. After all that and multiple lengthy phone calls, they would not reimburse me one dime. United sucks!


  19. Angie says:

    We had a pt whose leg was severed at the hip joint in a boating accident . The insurance didn’t want to pay for a prosthesis so she live a normal life. Luckily the doctors fought for her. She now is a nurse at the same hospital . Insurance companies are a joke and have us over a barrel second only to drug companies.


  20. Judith Young says:

    Congratulations on your strength and boldness! How sad it is that the whole world has lost the human experience of caring for one another over greed! Sometimes I imagine one side of a nation having an enclosed area
    ( counties, states,) for all those who live in anger, greed, and hatred, etc. and the other for those who want to live in harmony and help and care for each other…
    Dream on right?!? “In the end only kindness matters.”


  21. Barb Werner says:

    I had the same thing happen to me but it was February 1997 so I had no Women’s Healthcare act and no American’s with Disabilities Act either. I did get a wig but in the meantime,I paid for that and didn’t get reimbursed. I also used all my vacation and sick time because my first oncologist didn’t want me to work during chemotherapy. I had Stage IIIA infiltrating ductal breast cancer and changed doctors,she said I knew the signs of infection so I could work while getting treated. My point being that I was constantly afraid that I would get fired if I called in sick. I work at a hospital so I saw a lot of kindness but also inconsiderate people.Prayers for you.


  22. Anonymous says:

    To all of you who pay no.attention to people like this beautiful young woman because it ‘s not someone you know, someday, you can be sure, this will be one of your loved ones. I hope you’ll never forget how your ignorance affected this young woman!! May God Bless all who have to deal with this!!!


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