Seoul (AFP) -
People with hair loss in South Korea should have their treatments covered by the state to prevent 'discrimination', the ruling party's presidential candidate pledged Friday, in what critics called a bald bid to pull ahead in neck-and-neck polls.
Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung said he will expand government health insurance to cover treatments, potentially including expensive hair transplants, if he wins in the March presidential election.
'I will expand universal health insurance to hair loss treatment drugs... and will also consider covering hair transplant for serious cases of hair loss,' he said in a Facebook post that garnered hundreds of likes in minutes.
Lee, a human rights lawyer turned politician, said people with hair loss issues face 'daily discriminatory encounters... across age and gender groups.'
In a short, tongue-in-cheek video posted online Friday, Lee, who does not appear to have hair loss issues, is seen sweeping a hand over his neat black mane while promising to keep hair on every voter's head.
Many Koreans are using ineffective and potentially harmful over-the-counter remedies because expensive 'cosmetic' hair loss treatments are currently excluded from insurance coverage, Lee said, explaining his new campaign pledge.
The issue affects up to one in five South Koreans, his campaign said, without giving details on how much they expected fulfilling the promise to cost the state.
The offer -- which was first mooted last week -- has prompted widespread public debate, with many voters coming out in favour.
'Hair loss is a disease. I fully endorse his pledge,' one supporter wrote on Daum, the country's second-largest online portal.
But some critics have decried the 'populist' move as a potential drain on the health service.
'Should we cover Viagra prescriptions as well? It's not your money after all,' a critic wrote on Daum.
Lee is one of the two frontrunners in South Korea's presidential election.
He is locked in a tight race with opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, with the polling gap between the candidates often falling within the margin of error.
Incumbent President Moon Jae-in is legally barred from seeking a second term and is scheduled to step down in May.