The Medical Expense Deduction in 2018

Tax reform has lowered the threshold.

By Money On Tap

If you itemize, you should note the reduced medical deduction threshold for 2018. This year, you can deduct qualified medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Next year, the threshold for the medical expense deduction returns to 10% of AGI. (The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2018 also allowed the 7.5% threshold to apply retroactively to the 2017 tax year.)1 

So, if you are considering surgery or dental work in the future that could mean sizable out-of-pocket expenses for you, it might be better from a tax standpoint to schedule these procedures for 2018 instead of 2019. 

What kinds of unreimbursed expenses qualify for the deduction? The list is long. For a start, the Internal Revenue Service says these types of expenses may qualify as tax deductible: out-of-pocket fees to medical and dental professionals, psychiatrists and psychologists, and certain nontraditional medical practitioners; money spent to participate in a weight-loss program in response to a doctor-diagnosed condition or disease; payments for prescription drugs and insulin; payments for smoking cessation programs and prescription drugs to facilitate nicotine withdrawal; money spent on inpatient treatment or acupuncture at a rehab facility; and, money spent on inpatient hospital care or residential nursing home care.1,2

That last item deserves further explanation regarding nursing homes. If a taxpayer is in a nursing home first and foremost to receive medical care, the I.R.S. says that the cost of that care and any lodging and meal costs borne by the taxpayer are deductible. Should the taxpayer reside in a nursing home primarily for other reasons, the I.R.S. limits the deduction to the medical care provided.2

Other potential medical expense deductions are worth noting. You can of course deduct payments made for health care aids such as wheelchairs, false teeth, service animals and guide dogs, hearing aids, contact lenses, and reading or prescription eyeglasses. In addition, you can usually deduct insurance premiums that you have paid for insurance policies covering medical care or long-term care (as opposed to premiums paid on these policies by your employer). Lastly, you can often deduct transportation costs you incur related to qualified medical expenses: bus, train, and plane fares; gasoline expenses; parking and toll fees.2    

What kinds of expenses do not qualify? The cost of basic toiletries and toothpaste cannot be deducted; the same goes for cosmetics. Expenses for cosmetic surgery are usually not deductible, and neither are expenses for wellness programs or vacations. Non-prescription, over-the-counter drugs or medicines are non-deductible. Nicotine patches and gum may not be deducted, unless they have been prescribed for you. Burial and funeral expenses are also ineligible for the medical expense deduction.2 

Talk to a tax professional about the possibilities here. You may find it advantageous to itemize in 2018 using Schedule A so that you can claim medical expense deductions and take advantage of what could be the last year for the 7.5% threshold. Or, you might find that taking the newly enlarged standard deduction makes more financial sense. If you think your household will have significant medical expenses this year, it might be wise to compare the options.

Citations.

1 – tinyurl.com/yabhctua [2/15/18]

2 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc502 [1/31/18]

How the Tax Reforms Will Take Effect