Kimberly Seals Allers

This week, the good folks over at the Internal Revenue Service ruled that while people will be able to write off pimple creams and denture adhesives when the new tax sheltered health accounts kick in this January, women will not be able to write off the expense of breast pumps and other breastfeeding supplies.
A breast pump and various accessories can run about $500 to $1,000 for most mothers a year. Such costs, including nursing bras and other nursing friendly wear and gear are one of the many barriers for getting more women, and especially black women, to breastfeed longer.
The reason breastfeeding supplies didn’t make the cut, is that the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to qualify as a form of medical care. Only as good nutrition, not as preventative care.
Seriously? I mean, aren’t we past that conversation yet. And I’m sorry when did the IRS become a medical clearance board?
While breast-feeding supplies weren’t allowed under the old regulations either, one major goal of the health care overhaul was to control medical costs by encouraging preventive procedures like immunizations and screenings, and what could be more preventative in infant health than breastfeeding?
Despite a growing body of research indicating that the antibodies passed from mother to child in breast milk could reduce disease among infants–including one recent study that found it could prevent the premature death of 900 babies a year–the I.R.S. has denied a request from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reclassify breast-feeding costs as a medical care expense, The New York Times reported.
I.R.S. officials say they consider breast milk a food that can promote good health, the same way that eating citrus fruit can prevent scurvy. But because the I.R.S. code considers nutrition a necessity rather than a medical condition, the agency’s analysts view the cost of breast pumps, bottles and pads as no more deserving of a tax break than an orange juicer, the article continued.
I’m not even sure what to say about that.
Despite all the progress made in getting the medical field, Congress and even the First Lady to acknowledge the benefits of breastfeeding, it looks like the IRS did not get the memo. Or catch the video.
Meanwhile, a study released this year by Harvard Medical School concluded that if 90 percent of mothers followed the standard medical advice of feeding infants only breast milk for their first six months, the United States could save $13 billion a year in health care costs and prevent the premature deaths of 900 infants each year from respiratory illness and other infections.
But to continue breastfeeding beyond maternity leave requires a pump. And good breast pumps aren’t cheap. Nobody is asking for a handout here, just a well deserved tax break. Like the one given to zit creams.
As with any tax code, there will always be ways to work loopholes. Some consultants say mothers may ask their pediatricians for a note that says breastfeeding is medically necessary. But to have working moms jump through even more hoops for something that should be so easy seems insane. And given that, allegedly, the whole idea of health care reform, is to make things better, the insanity of it all is just a little too much to bear.