Mastectomy Bra Facts
Mastectomy bras can be beautiful and look the same as any other bra you might buy in a lingerie department. One of the designers I worked with had an impressive degree from the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. Designing a bra is an art and a science considering they usually have between 20 to 30 components! Bras, mastectomy or non-mastectomy, are priced depending on their ‘parts’ and features, fabrics, laces, trims, straps, seamed cups or seamless, etc.
Of course, designer labels have a premium price because of workmanship, laces, embroidery and embellishments and because they are ”designer” bras. When I worked in luxury lingerie, our bras were priced from $60 to $200. Some women spend hundreds of dollars a months on their hair, their cell phones, and/or a $5 cup of coffee every day of the week BUT cannot come to terms with spending money on bras. YOU need a wardrobe of bras…for every occasion…and breasts are very needy! Do not deny yourself all the bras you had before breast cancer because you don’t have to. Add to your collection regardless of what you may have had in your bra drawer before diagnosis.
There are a variety of bra cup styles. Here is a list with a description used on this site.
Contour Cup - A seamless cup, that can also be a molded cup, where it is lined with a thin layer of foam for modesty. A seamless cup can be rigid or stretchy.
3-part cups and 4-part cups - This is another term for Cut & Sew Cups with seams. This design structure creates the most supportive cups. The more seams, the more supportive a cut & sew cup becomes.
Full Cups - These cups are designed to cover all or most of each breast.
Minimizer Cups - Minimizer cups reduce the projection of your breasts, so these cups are more shallow and wider than average bra cups.
Molded Cups - Any bra cup that has built-in breast shape formed from a molding machine. Molded cups are usually seamless and unlined.
Padded Cups - A bra cup with padding included.
Seamless Cups - A bra cup without any seams. This style of cup almost always has a breast shape pre-determined by a molding machine. A seamless cup can also be a contour cup where it is lined with a thin layer of foam for modesty. A seamless cup can be rigid or stretchy.
Soft Cups - This is another name for cups without underwires. Other names for this type of cup are wire-free cups and wireless cups.
Powernet - a very sturdy knit fabric (that is also used in extra firm compression garments).
If insurance does not cover all the bras you want, then just buy them. If you only wear white and nude, buy some color now! Colors can almost be like a neutral and can make you feel so much better. And do NOT wear the same bra day after day after day…bras need a rest, just like you do, after you have had a hard day at work! Don’t kid yourself…the larger your breasts are, the harder your bra is working for you and your prosthesis.
This bra introduction might be the best time to mention I have fit women for bras from cup size A to J (and let’s not forget I have done mammograms on all sizes too). At my hospital based boutique, in the Women’s Center building, we also fit nursing bras for the new moms and those bras went up to an M cup. SO, my point is that I have a very extensive background in fitting all types of breasts (and doing mammograms on them), in all stages of their life!
Mastectomy bras need to have a wider bridge (or center front) and pockets to accommodate the prosthesis. Luckily, the mastectomy bra manufacturers offer hundreds of styles and colors to choose from. There are endless choices including post-op bras, leisure bras, classic styles (seamed cups that may include a side panel for added support), seamless ‘t-shirt’ bras, non-underwire, underwire, camisole bras, and sports bras.
Women who think they are a C cup are often an E cup or larger. Let your Fitter fit you properly. Once you are fit with the proper size bra, your prosthesis should not weigh you down or be uncomfortable. Don’t forget, bras are like jeans…you have to try on many to get the right size and fit. And the bra you love and want just may not be the best fit for you and your prosthesis. Your Fitter should try several on you and help you understand what styles works best for you.
Post-op / Leisure Bra
Post-op/Leisure bras are usually designed with an easy front closure and high cotton content fabrics for a cozy, comfortable feel, that you can also wear during your leisure time. Available in white, black and nude plus fun colors and patterns, they are the perfect bra to wear while you are undergoing radiation treatment or recovering from surgery. You will want several!
These Post-op/Leisure bras are considered part of your bra allowance by insurance. Your insurance allowance for bras may never be the number that you want or need for your lifestyle. Purchase extra bras to fill in your bra wardrobe and don’t get ‘stuck’ on what your insurance allows! You always paid for bras before breast cancer, so allow yourself to pay for additional bras that your insurance may not cover.
Let’s talk about Medicare: Medicare categorizes the post-mastectomy market under DME (Durable Medical Equipment). DME is a very complex industry. Medicare reimbursement varies from state to state and reimbursement to your dealer is predetermined by an annual fee schedule.
Here is a very simplified example of how this industry works: For businesses that file Medicare, the owner knows reimbursement for ANY bra is $35 (sometimes more and sometimes less, depending on your state), based on the Medicare fee schedule. Does she give you the bra that costs her $8 or the bra that costs her $18? Bras, with several embellishments, can often cost the dealer between $20 to $30.
When it comes to bras, a dealer will often forego profit in order to assure the perfect fit and make you happy. A financial loss on a bra decreases the profit of your breast form, but many dealers will accept losing money on bras.
Dealers have to interpret some Medicare guidelines and the bra guidelines are vague. But every dealer will interpret and make a best effort to offer a quantity of bras they feel will be covered. Medicare does allow you to purchase additional bras, but they insist the dealer fills out more paperwork.
Do not get ‘stuck’ on only owning what your insurer says you can have. Purchase additional bras that fit your lifestyle!
Other payers (Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, CIGNA, etc.) typically follow Medicare guidelines but may have their own. Reimbursement from these insurers is ‘all over the place’ depending on contracts with your DME and other reimbursement criteria. This gets way too complicated to discuss here, but I hope you are getting the message! If not, give me a call.
Think of it as the generic drug vs. the brand drug…insurance is often the driver of your product choices. Fitters are dedicated professionals who want to serve you and your needs. But they have to consider the business side of product choices.
It is important that you call your insurance company to find out your benefits and it helps to have the Medicare billing L codes when you call, since insurance companies often locate benefits with these codes. Your dealer will be checking your benefits, but you should know what your insurance coverage is and what it allows you to take home.
Please do not underestimate the power of a beautiful bra, breast form or shaper that can give a woman symmetry. A woman’s emotional satisfaction, of looking normal in her clothes, cannot be weighed or measured. Your local breast care boutique can be the patient’s best emotional support. Some women do not want to constantly visit a 'breast cancer' boutique. If this is the case please refer them to Pink Ribbon Plus.
The patient is referred to support groups and other helpful organizations, so be sure the patient understands the product options for them and that insurance may cover most of them. A quick phone call to me can help a patient enormously. After conducting countless medical practice ‘lunch and learns’ and in-services, I completely understand that most practices do not have the resources to stay updated with the breast care product industry and related insurance benefits. I really want to help medical practices help patients!
Benefit coverage changes constantly and is different with every payer and state. Pink Ribbon Plus cannot be responsible for changes in coverage. All information is given with the sole intent to educate the client and help them understand post-breast cancer diagnosis insurance benefits when pertaining solely to post-op garments, external breast forms, bras, wigs, and skin care products. All products must be approved by the physician before using.