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In bald play for votes, South Korean candidate promises subsidized hair-loss treatments

South Korean presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung
Lee Jae-myung, a candidate of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party in March’s presidential election, speaks at a news conference Tuesday.
(Chung Sung-Jun / Pool Photo)

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 Lee’s proposal. There is also strong criticism that it’s just a populist campaign pledge by Lee, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, to win votes.

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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.”

The pinching hand symbol has become a point of contention in a charged battle over gender and anti-feminist backlash by men’s rights groups.

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

His latest 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, treating hair loss that’s related to aging and hereditary factors is not covered by the government-run insurance program. Such treatments are only supported if the loss is caused by certain diseases.

Reports say 1 in every 5 South Koreans suffers from hair loss.


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