IRS Recognizes Obesity as a Disease

Apr 03, 2002

Recognizing obesity as a disease, the IRS says it will begin allowing taxpayers to claim weight loss expenses as a medical deduction. Apart from the tax break, the Internal Revenue Service ruling could pave the way for insurance companies and government programs such as Medicare to offer coverage for obesity treatment, experts say. Now, it is usually considered a symptom or precursor to some other disease.

Taxpayers have been able to deduct the costs of weight loss programs as a medical expense since 2000 only if they were recommended by a doctor to treat a specific disease. The IRS did not recognize obesity itself as an ailment that qualified for the weight loss expense deduction.

To take the deduction, a taxpayer will have to participate in a weight-loss program for medically valid reasons. Simply joining a gym or a weight control program to “improve the taxpayer’s appearance, general health and sense of well-being” and not under a physician’s guidance will not qualify. Also not deductible are diet foods.

The ruling applies to income tax returns as far back as 1998. Taxpayers who want to take a deduction for past expenses need only file an amended return for the tax year in question. IRS Publication 502 has the details on the medical deduction.

Moderator Comment: Will the IRS allowing the deduction
of medically approved weight loss programs have any ripple effects at retail?

The overwhelming majority of overweight people will not
be able to benefit from this medical deduction. The incentive to lose weight
is still going to be personal. Don’t expect to see a new rush to salad bars
or personal fitness equipment departments any time soon. [George
Anderson – Moderator

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