Campaign Promise Leads to a Hairy Debate

Proposed insurance coverage for hair loss shows Lee Jae-myung's nose for vote-hunting.

Campaign Promise Leads to a Hairy Debate

Photo: Lee Jae-myung's online ad, "Don't pick Lee Jae-myung, plug Lee Jae-myung."  Credit: Youtube channel of Lee Jae-myung.

Democratic presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung 이재명 민주당 대선 후보 has a nose for virality. His latest hit is a campaign pledge to extend coverage by the National Health Insurance to cover treatment for hair loss. Lee’s online ad, where he says “Pick [elect] Lee Jae-myung? No - you plug Lee Jae-myung” while stroking his hair, was received with great enthusiasm online.

Announced as a part of Lee’s slate of “Small Promises with Guaranteed Happiness” 소확행 공약, the hair loss coverage pledge is an example of Lee Jae-myung’s strength in retail politics. Throughout his time as the mayor of Seongnam-si 성남시장 and the governor of Gyeonggi-do Province 경기도지사, Lee has been a bloodhound for sniffing out votes from unexpected sources. (See previous coverage, “Lee Jae-myung’s Stormy Rise.”)

Although usually laughed off as an affliction for old men, hair loss is in fact a sensitive topic that affects a surprising number of people. In a 2019 Gallup Korea survey, 22% of Korean adults said they were experiencing hair loss - which translates to nearly 9m people. Among men suffering from hair loss, 21% were in their 20s or 30s. Women are also affected; among the approximately 230k people who received medical treatment for hair loss in 2019, 45% were women.

In an interview, Lee emphasized that hair loss is not a laughing matter; rather than an issue of aesthetics, according to Lee, hair loss is a public health issue that causes a great deal of financial burden in treatment cost, as well as the real yet unspoken pain from difficulty in dating and job search.

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