IRS Doesn't Care if Breast Is Best
The New York Times reports that the Internal Revenue Service has issued a decree that tax-free health savings accounts may not be used to purchase breast pumps, because the health benefits have not been sufficiently established.
The American Academy of Pediatrics had requested that the IRS begin considering breast-feeding supplies as medical expenses. Breast pumps are expensive; the popular Medela Pump in Style is $274 on Amazon.
The ruling is, in part, the result of a governmental catch-22. According to The Times, breast milk is considered a nutritious food, rather than medicine.
"(The IRS gets) very uneasy about anything that smacks of food because they fear it will open up all sorts of exceptions," Roy Ramthun, a former Treasury Department official who is now a consultant, tells the Times.
Following this logic, if parents could use flexible spending accounts to pay for breast pumps or other supplies, perhaps they would then be able use the accounts to buy bananas for a child with a potassium deficiency.
Additionally, patients no longer will be allowed to use their flexible spending accounts to pay for over-the-counter medications as of Jan. 1, unless they have a doctor's prescription. Getting a note from the doctor is one way parents can attempt to combat resistance from the IRS when it comes to paying for breast-feeding supplies, according to The Times.
Jody L. Dietel, chief compliance officer for flexible spending account claim processing company WageWorks, tells The Times that having a doctor's note sometimes helps patients use their accounts to pay for typically ineligible procedures such as orthodontia.
"The doctors write notes warning that the patient's jaw might be damaged without treatment or their overbite could cause health problems, and it becomes an eligible expense," she says.
Of course, there is no guarantee that having a doctor's note will do the trick. Barbara Emanuel, executive director of La Leche League International, tells The Times that "resistance from the formula companies," among other factors, has made it "surprisingly difficult" to get Congress and health insurers to change their stance on the issue, despite the fact that "everyone says they support breast-feeding," Emanuel says.
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