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Got an FSA account? This year you'll be able to use its tax sheltered dollars to buy Tums and pimple cream, but not your breast pump or other supplies that help you breastfeed. After being lobbied by several advocacy groups, the IRS has decided that breastfeeding still does have enough health benefits to be considered "medical care" and therefore doesnt merit a tax break. This is, of course, despite strong recommendations from many medical groups (including the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics) for women to breastfeed their babies. And despite the many studies showing that breastfeeding benefits the health of the infant and the mom. (Including that mother’s milk contains antibodies that can reduce the risk of illness and premature death in babies, that it can help prevent obesity and all the diseases that come with being overweight, and that it helps lower the risk of a long list of other health conditions.)
Talk about mixed messages! It’s not easy for women, especially working women, to continue breastfeeding without the help of a breast pump and plenty of storage bags, bottles and other parephenalia. And nursing stuff can cost a small fortune -- about $500 to $1,000 over the course of a year, according to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The ruling is because the IRS considers breast milk a food, not a medicine, and is wary of the slippery slope of permitting food items to be reimbursed through flexible spending accounts and health care savings plans. Who knows? People might want to write off their salmon dinner because fish oils are known to promote good health. The IRS policy states:
"Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. They do not include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health, such as vitamins or a vacation."
There may be one exception, however. “There are instances when a breast pump is medically necessary and not simply for the mother’s convenience,” says Jody Dietl, chief compliance officer for WageWorks, a company that processes claims from flexible spending accounts. “This might include an infection or engorgement, and the patient could get a letter of medical necessity for the breast pump and it would then be considered an eligible expense." But isn't it necessary for any breastfeeding mom who needs to be away from her baby?
Do you think breastpumps and other nursing items should be covered under flex spending accounts? Chime in below!