Some new tax info

Sometime during his typical 70-hour work week during tax season, my brother the CPA sent this my way. I thought you all might be interested:


WASHINGTON–The Internal Revenue Service today issued a ruling explaining conditions under which expenses for certain weight-loss programs may qualify as a medical deduction. The cost of diet foods, however, would not be deductible.

Revenue Ruling 2002-19 gives examples of two taxpayers participating in weight-loss programs. They paid fees to join the programs and to attend periodic meetings and purchased diet plans and booklets. One was diagnosed by a doctor as obese, the other as suffering from hypertension. Both participated in the programs as a treatment for their diseases. The costs related to their weight-loss programs would be deductible for these taxpayers, to the extent not reimbursed by insurance or otherwise.

Taxpayers may deduct qualifying medical expenses only to the extent the total of such expenses exceeds 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.

The ruling distinguishes these cases from situations in which taxpayers participate in weight-loss programs to improve their general health or appearances. Such costs are nondeductible personal expenses.

Although diet foods may also be part of a weight-loss program, these are substitutes for the food the taxpayers normally consume and satisfy their nutritional requirements. As such, they are not deductible medical expenses, even for taxpayers whose disease qualifies them to deduct weight loss program costs.

This guidance applies not only to the 2001 tax returns being filed this year, but also to any years for which taxpayers may file amended returns. Generally, a person may amend a return for three years after the due date. Thus, a taxpayer who did not have an extension to file would have until April 15, 2002, to amend a 1998 return.

I guess we we’ll never be able to write off Mag-10, eh? I think it’s kind of a sad commentary that you have to become obese or hypertensive before the IRS “financially commends” you for taking care or your health. Obviously, I don’t think that people ought to be able to write off healthy foods, but I think that anyone who seeks the advice of a qualified professional (yeah, I know most personal trainers and nutritionists are pathetic) should receive the same tax break that they’re offering the worst cases. The whole concept completely undermines the principle of preventative health care. Then again, even the idea of preventative health care is water under the bridge at this point considering that more than half of all Americans are to some extent overweight. I guess they’d all be better off if they just read T-Mag for free, huh? Just my two cents; anyone else have any thoughts?

Well, I see two sides to this. One, if a doctor prescribes a weight loss regimen to a patient (just as they might prescribe a drug), why SHOULDN’T they be able to deduct this? It has to be over 7.5% of adjusted income, just like other medical expenses. On the other hand, it WILL erode the tax base, generally raising the overall tax rates, so we ALL end up paying.