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The IRS and Breast Pumps

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This is really outrageous.  The IRS says you can get a tax break for your dentures or your acne cream.  But try to use your medical flexible spending account for your breast pump, and the IRS says no way. From a story in today’s New York Times:

…That is because the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to quality as a form of medical care.

With all the changes the health care overhaul will bring in the coming years, it nonetheless will leave those regulations intact when new rules for flexible spending accounts go into effect in January. Those allow millions of Americans to set aside part of their pretax earnings to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses.

While breast-feeding supplies weren’t allowed under the old regulations either, one major goal of the health care overhaul was to control medical costs by encouraging preventive procedures like immunizations and screenings.

Despite a growing body of research indicating that the antibodies passed from mother to child in breast milk could reduce disease among infants — including one recent study that found it could prevent the premature death of 900 babies a year — the I.R.S. has denied a request from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reclassify breast-feeding costs as a medical care expense…

I.R.S. officials say they consider breast milk a food that can promote good health, the same way that eating citrus fruit can prevent scurvy. But because the I.R.S. code considers nutrition a necessity rather than a medical condition, the agency’s analysts view the cost of breast pumps, bottles and pads as no more deserving of a tax break than an orange juicer.

Many mothers’ groups and medical experts say that breast milk provides nutrition and natural supplements that prevent disease, and would like to see its use expanded. Hospital accreditation groups have been prodding maternity wards to encourage parents to feed only breast milk until a child is 6 months old.

The new health law does include one breakthrough for nursing mothers, a mandate that they be permitted unpaid breaks to use breast pumps. Spurned by tax authorities, breast-feeding advocates say they will return to Congress to get a tax break, too….

So what do you think? Leave a comment below.

5 Responses to “The IRS and Breast Pumps”

Wow…that’s really absurd! Even if breastfeeding is a nutrition issue, from good nutrition leads to better health. Yeah, good nutrition is “mandatory” and goes without saying, but the incentive here is the health benefits that breastfeeding provides on long-term studies.

Breastfeeding isn’t easy, and sometimes you need the help to get going, and even keep going. Medical necessity. Or why tout breastfeeding at all? There’s a reason why it is preferred to than formula.

I wonder what Revenue Canada’s take on this issue is, where I’m from…

Wow. I’m . . . I’m almost speechless. (Almost!)

How the heck do they reconcile this stance with the fact that other govt/taxpayer funded programs (like WIC) are so, so incredibly pro-breastfeeding!?! I was on WIC when pregnant with my daughter, and I got breastfeeding materials/encouragement in the mail all the time, and definitely every in-office WIC visit was super encouraging/empowering/pro BFing.

I feel like there’s some sort of massive disconnect here. And not enough health benefits? Please.

I understand being frustrated by it, because it would be nice to have this to encourage people to keep feeding breastmilk even when they can’t nurse. However, I can see the IRS’s point; and ultimately, what they are saying is, “Duh! Of course you should be giving your baby breastmilk. We aren’t going to give you a tax break for something you should be doing anyway.” I can see the analogy; they don’t give you tax breaks for equipment to give your children (or yourself) other nutritious foods, even though they can prevent diseases.
Like I said, I can understand the frustration. I’m very pro-breastfeeding, and am going on 8.5 months of it myself (and plan to continue as long as the baby will have it). But I can see their point too.

I would put breastfeeding an infant, especially exclusively, right up there with immunizations when it comes to “benefits” and “preventative measures” – this decision is absurd. One of the biggest reasons women who initiate breastfeeding at birth don’t continue through infancy is the struggle to maintain milk supply when they return to work. It is vital that they have access to a high quality pump to take with them to work in order to keep up their milk supply for their infants. Hand pumps and the less expensive battery operated models do not have the same power or the same functions that allow higher quality breast pumps to mimic breastfeeding and express milk efficiently for working moms. For moms who are with their children at home, work at home, or only work very short hours report good things about less expensive hand and battery pumps, but for part time and full time working moms, it is vital that a high quality pump is available. Moms who buy breast pumps on a budget often report that their milk supply dwindles and eventually end up using strictly formula for when they are at work, which usually leads to a full weaning process.

For income-eligible woman, WIC in many states provides high quality breast pumps to help, but not everyone is eligible for WIC, and high quality breast pumps are very expensive.

In addition to the women who experience a drop in supply when they return to work (especially with a lower grade pump), a lot of women make the decision NOT to breastfeed at birth simply BECAUSE they will be returning to work soon after the birth and cannot fathom the cost of a pump in general, much less a high quality one.

The price of breast pumps is definitely a barrier to breastfeeding for the working mom, especially in this economy. And the vital components of breast milk that significantly protect infants and limit illnesses during childhood make it a shoe-in for a “preventative measure.”

We just passed into federal law that employers must allow unpaid breaks and a clean non-bathroom facility for breastfeeding moms to pump at work. But what good is that law if moms can’t afford to buy a quality breast pump to utilize during their federally regulated breaks?

Omitting breast pumps from this list is perpetuating a barrier to higher breastfeeding numbers in our country that costs not only millions of federal dollars in medical bills, but also costs us infants’ lives and the health of our future generations.

[...] under: Breastfeeding,Motherhood — Sin City Siren @ 8:00 am So, the IRS has ruled that breast pumps are not eligible for purchase on tax-exempt medical flex spending cards. The reason? According to a New York Times [...]

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