Medical expenses, in order to be claimed as an itemized deduction on a U.S. federal individual income tax return, need to meet the criteria that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has established. Probably in the majority of cases we know what is or is not a medical expense. But there are situations in which some ambiguity may enter in, and it is in these cases that we may need to look for guidance.
General Definition of Medical Expenses
In its Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses, the IRS provides a general definition of medical expenses, and the criteria to be followed in determining whether an expense qualifies as a medical expense. It then goes on to present a listing of several of the more common conditions and situations that could affect many taxpayers, classifying them as either medical expenses that may be included in the deduction or expenses that cannot be included in the medical expenses deduction.
The general definition provided by the IRS states that, “Medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body.” The text goes on to say that these medical expenses “include the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes.” Dental expenses are also specifically included as medical expenses. As additional clarification, the text states that, “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.”
While the text excludes expenses that are “merely beneficial to general health” the definition also includes the term “prevention of disease” among deductible medical expenses. There is, of course, some room for interpretation, and it is important to evaluate each situation individually to see whether the expenses go along with the spirit of this tax benefit provision.