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NOTE: THIS IS NOT A BREAST VS. BOTTLE DEBATE. IF IT TURNS INTO ONE I WILL CLOSE IT!!!
IRS says they can't use tax-sheltered health accounts to buy pumps, supplies
By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI
NEW YORK TIMES
Oct. 27, 2010, 12:08AM
According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• Birth: About 75 percent of the 4.3 million mothers who gave birth in 2007 started out breast-feeding.
• 6 months: By the time the baby was 6 months, the portion dropped to 43 percent.
• 1 year: On the child's first birthday, 22 percent continued to breast-feed.
Denture wearers will get a tax break on the cost of adhesives to keep their false teeth in place. So will acne sufferers on the purchase of pimple creams.
People whose children have severe allergies might even be allowed the break for replacing grass with artificial turf since it could be considered a medical expense.
But nursing mothers will not be allowed to use their tax-sheltered health care accounts to pay for breast pumps and other supplies.
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.
The new regulations, stemming from the health care overhaul, take effect in January for flexible spending accounts, which allow millions of Americans to set aside part of their pretax earnings to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses.
One major goal of the health care overhaul was to control medical costs by encouraging preventive medical procedures like immunizations and screening tests. 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 IRS has denied a request from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reclassify breast-feeding costs as a medical care expense.
Just like a juicer
IRS 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 IRS 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 breast milk provides both nutrition and natural supplements that prevent disease and would generally like to see its use expanded. Hospital accreditation groups have been prodding hospital 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. Breast-feeding advocates say they will return to Congress to get a tax break, too.
$500 to $1,000 a year
To breast-feed once they return to work, many mothers need to use pumps to extract milk, which can be chilled and bottle-fed to the child later. The cost of buying or renting a breast pump and accessories needed to store milk runs about $500 to $1,000 for most mothers over the course of a year, according to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit advocacy group. Lactation consultants, who can cost several hundred dollars, also would not be an eligible expense.
Roy Ramthun, a former Treasury Department official, said that tax officials' reluctance to classify those costs as medical expenses stemmed from a fear that the program might be abused.
"They get very uneasy about anything that smacks of food because they fear it will open up all sorts of exceptions," said Ramthun, who runs a consulting company that specializes in health care savings accounts. "It's a matter of cost and of protecting the integrity of the tax code."
Bills introduced last year by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would have allowed nursing mothers to claim the tax break. But breast-feeding advocates say that effort, like many before, was undone by a variety of economic and cultural factors.
"Everyone says they support breast-feeding, but getting businesses and Congress to act on it has been surprisingly difficult," said Barbara Emanuel, executive director of the breast-feeding advocacy group La Leche League International. "We get resistance from the formula companies and cultural resistance, so it can be hard to get nursing mothers the support that everyone agrees they deserve."