Rx for a tax ache: Deducting medical expenses

The general IRS definition states, “Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body.”

Medical expenses include fees paid to doctors, dentists, surgeons, chiropractors, psychiatrists, psychologists and Christian Science practitioners. The costs of equipment, supplies and diagnostic devices needed for qualified medical care services are also tax-deductible medical expenses.

Premiums paid for insurance that covers the expenses of medical care, limited amounts paid for any qualified long-term care insurance contract and amounts paid for qualified long-term care services are tax-deductible.

The cost of transportation to get medical care as well as meals and lodging charged by the hospital, if the main reason for being there is to receive medical care, are includable. Dental expenses are also specifically included as medical expenses.

Among other medical treatment and service expenses includable are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Alcoholism
  • Ambulance
  • Artificial teeth and limbs
  • Body scan
  • Breast reconstruction surgery following a mastectomy for cancer
  • Birth control pills
  • Braille books and magazines

Capital expenses for special equipment installed in a home or constructions for home improvements to accommodate a person with a disabled condition are considered medical care.

Expenses that are merely beneficial to general health are not. These include vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toiletries, cosmetics, a trip or program for the general improvement of health and most cosmetic surgery.

Because there is some room for interpretation, it is important to evaluate each situation individually to see whether the expenses fall under this tax benefit provision. For instance, payments for a smoking-cessation program and for drugs prescribed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are tax-deductible. The costs of nicotine gum and nicotine patches, which do not require a prescription, are not.

Posted on November 1, 2009
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