South Korea’s ruling party presidential candidate has ignited a fierce debate after proposing that the country’s public healthcare insurance should cover hair loss treatment.
Lee Jae-myung’s proposal this week has triggered a flood of messages of support on online communities for people suffering hair loss – but also prompted accusations that it was a bald attempt to win votes.
Lee, the flagbearer of the Democratic party, said almost 10 million people suffer from hair loss but many of them order medicines from overseas or resort to prostate drugs as an alternative due to high treatment costs.
On Wednesday the well-coiffed politician told reporters that hair regrowth treatments should be covered by the national health insurance programme.
“Please, let us know what has been inconvenient for you over hair-loss treatments and what must be reflected in policies,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’ll present a perfect policy on hair-loss treatment.”
His proposal triggered a flood of messages of support online. “Let’s implant Lee Jae-myung for us,” a user wrote, replying to a post of Lee’s slogans on hair loss uploaded to an online hair loss community.
Lee’s party arranged a meeting late on Wednesday with voters suffering from hair loss.
Jeong Da-eun, a mother of two, told the meeting that she gave up medical treatment as it required a spend of 4 million won (£2,500) over six months, resorting to a good shampoo and food instead.
But Lee’s pledge brought criticism too, with the opposition calling it the latest item on Lee’s populist agenda.
Ahn Cheol-soo, a minor opposition candidate who was formerly a doctor and software tycoon, described Lee’s proposal as irresponsible and promised to cut the prices of generic drugs and fund the development of new treatment if elected.
”[Lee’s idea] may appear to be a necessary step for many people worrying about their hair loss but it’s nothing but serious populism, given that it would worsen the financial stability of the state insurance program,” the conservative Munhwa Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday.
Lee, who once said he aspired to be a “successful Bernie Sanders”, has shot to fame on the back of his push for universal basic income and aggressive Covid-19 responses during his stint as Gyeonggi province governor.
Lee Sang-ee, a professor at Jeju National University’s medical school, said the national health insurance might falter if it spends hundreds of billions of won to cover hair loss, when it is designed to help those suffering from serious ailments.
There is no official data on how many South Koreans suffer from hair loss. The National 健康 Insurance Service only provided yearly tallies of people who have received hospital treatment, which was about 230,000 在 2020.
Lee Jae-myung said on Wednesday that hair loss coverage is necessary from the aspect of “body completeness”, and his campaign is studying its potential financial impact.