How to Write off Medical Expenses as a Tax Deduction

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Preparing your income taxes? You’re probably looking for as many tax deductions as possible. Medical care is expensive, so if you can write off the cost of your health care, you can potentially lower your tax bill.

However, IRS rules are complex and detailed. You need to understand whose medical expenses are tax deductible, what types of expenses are deductible, and whether or not you have enough tax-deductible medical expenses to make it worth your while.

Especially since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 significantly increased the standard deduction, most filers end up taking the standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions, which means they're not deducting medical expenses.

Two Ways to Write off Medical Expenses

The two ways to write off medical expenses are:

  1. Claim them as a tax deduction when you itemize your deductions.
    1. This is by far the most common way to write off medical expenses. You must use Schedule A of Form 1040. If you take the standard deduction rather than itemizing your deductions (which is what nearly 90 percent of tax filers do), you can’t write off your medical expenses unless you qualify to use the second way.
  2. Claim them as an adjustment to your income.
    1. This lowers your adjusted gross income making it look like you made less money. But the deduction is generally limited to the premiums paid by self-employed people for health, dental, and long-term care insurance.

In this article, we'll look at the first method. It allows you to write off a broad range of medical expenses if your total medical costs are high enough, and there's no requirement that you be self-employed.

Do You Have Enough Medical Expenses to Make It Worth Your While?

In order to claim a medical expense tax deduction on Schedule A, your expenses have to add up to at least 10% of your adjusted gross income. You only get to deduct the expenses that exceed this 10% threshold. For example, if your adjusted gross income is $100,000 and you have $12,000 in qualified medical expenses, you’ll get to deduct $2,000. The first $10,000 of your medical expenses is used to meet the 10% threshold. The remaining $2,000 can be claimed as a tax deduction.

The deduction threshold used to be 7.5% of adjusted gross income, but it increased to 10% in 2013 (it stayed at 7.5% of your adjusted gross income through 2016 if you or your spouse was 65 or older). The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily lowered the threshold back to 7.5% for all filers for 2017 and 2018, but it reset to 10% as of 2019.

Which Medical Expenses Count?

Your opinion about what constitutes a medical expense may differ from the IRS’s opinion. According to the IRS, “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.” To read the law yourself, check out Internal Revenue Code section 213.

You can’t claim expenses that your health insurance company paid, or expenses reimbursed by your pre-tax flexible spending account or health savings account. In other words, no "double-dipping."

If you received medical care during a given year but paid for the care in a different year, you claim the expense in the year you paid for it, not the year you received the service. For example, if you received treatment in autumn of 2018 but didn’t pay for that treatment until January of 2019, you’d claim the medical expense on your 2019 taxes, filed by April 15, 2020 (but you generally can't deduct expenses for a given year if you're prepaying them and are going to receive the medical care in a future year).

In some cases, you can claim the cost of health insurance as a tax-deductible medical expense. As noted above, if you're self-employed, you have the option of deducting the premiums that you pay yourself (not including any premium subsidies you receive in the exchange, or premiums that anyone else pays on your behalf). In that case, you don't have to itemize your deductions. But for folks who aren't self-employed, health insurance premiums can be lumped in with other medical expenses to reach the deductibility threshold (10% of adjusted gross income).

Some examples of common tax-deductible medical expenses includes:

  • Your health insurance deductible, copayments, and coinsurance
  • Your out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs (This doesn’t include medical marijuana or prescription drugs shipped into the country illegally.)
  • Unreimbursed psychotherapy or psychoanalysis expenses
  • Bandages and Band-Aids
  • Contact lenses and glasses used to correct vision
  • Contact lens solution
  • Hearing aids and hearing aid batteries
  • Breast pump supplies
  • In vitro fertilization costs
  • Pregnancy test kits
  • Long-term care expenses (qualifying rules apply) and some long-term care insurance premiums (there is a limit on how much can be deducted; the IRS adjusts this limit each year, and it varies depending on how old you are).

 For the IRS’s list of qualified medical expenses, check out IRS Publication 502.

Whose Medical Expenses Count?

Generally, you can claim a tax deduction for your own medical expenses, your spouse’s expenses, and your dependents’ expenses. But keep in mind that it only makes sense to itemize your deduction if the total amount you're itemizing—including medical expenses and other itemized deductions—exceeds the standard deduction that you could take without itemizing anything. In 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for single filers (and married people who file separately), $24,400 for married couples filing jointly, and $18,350 for those who file as head of household. As noted above, most tax filers are better off with the standard deduction, because the total amount of deductions that they would itemize wouldn't exceed those amounts.

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Article Sources

  1. York, Erica. Tax Foundation. Nearly 90 Percent of Taxpayers Are Projected to Take the TCJA’s Expanded Standard Deduction. September 26, 2018.


  2. Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 502: Medical and Dental Expenses.


  3. Internal Revenue Service. Itemized Deduction for Medical Expenses.


  4. Internal Revenue Service. Publication 502 (2018), Medical and Dental Expenses.


  5. Internal Revenue Service. Publication 502: Medical and Dental Expenses. What expenses can you include this year?


  6. Elder Law Answers. IRS Issues Long-Term Care Premium Deductibility Limits for 2019. August 2. 2019. And Internal Revenue Service, Revenue Procedure 2018-57.


  7. NerdWallet. Standard Tax Deduction: How Much It Is and When to Take It. August 20, 2019.


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