In South Korea, hair loss emerges as new election issue

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Lee Jae-myung

Lee Jae-myung, a candidate of the ruling Democratic Party for next March’s presidential election, speaks during a New Year press conference at a Kia Motors’ plant in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung isn’t bald. But he is enjoying the support of many bald voters over his push for government payments for hair loss treatments.

Since his proposal was disclosed earlier this week, hair loss has emerged as a hot-button topic ahead of March’s presidential vote in South Korea, where previous elections have focused on North Korea’s nuclear program, relations with the U.S., scandals and economic problems.

Online communities for bald people are flooded with messages supporting his proposal. There is also strong criticism that it’s just a populism-driven campaign pledge by Lee, the governing party candidate, to win votes.

Messages on social media include, “Jae-myung bro. I love you. I’ll implant you in the Blue House” and “Your Excellency, Mr. President! You’re giving new hope to bald people for the first time in Korea.”

Lee told reporters Wednesday that he thinks hair regrowth treatments should be covered by the national health insurance program.

“Please, let us know what has been inconvenient for you over hair-loss treatments and what must be reflected in policies,” Lee wrote on Facebook. “I’ll present a perfect policy on hair-loss treatment.”

Lee, an outspoken liberal, is leading public opinion surveys. Some critics have called him a dangerous populist.

“(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 Thursday.

Currently, hair loss related to aging and hereditary factors is not covered by the government-run insurance program. Hair loss treatments are only supported if the loss is caused by certain diseases.

Reports say one in every five South Koreans suffers from hair loss.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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