When buying special foods for people with food allergies or celiac disease, the cost can add up quickly. Since avoiding allergens or gluten (wheat products) is a medical necessity for many people with these conditions, can food costs be deducted on your income tax return?
It depends. And it’s not easy.
The first and most important thing you need before taking a tax deduction is a physician’s diagnosis of food allergy or celiac disease – along with a clear, written statement that the patient must avoid all contact with the allergen.
Next, the person with the allergy must be you, a spouse or a qualified dependent. Consult a tax advisor if you are not sure about this.
Finally, you must keep detailed records. The food must be specific to the diagnosis and you can only deduct the difference in cost between the allergen-free food and the regular food. For instance, if you have a dairy allergy, you can count the cost of buying soy milk versus cow’s milk, but not the cost of buying juice instead of milk. If you shop online, delivery fees can be included in the cost.
Making the Claim
To take a deduction for food allergy or celiac disease purchases, you must itemize on Schedule A, but you don’t get to deduct the full amount. Tax law says you can deduct qualified medical expenses that exceed 10% of your gross income (7.5% if you or your spouse are over 65).
To reach that magic 10 percent, add your allergy-free food expenses to prescription costs, co-pays or other out-of-pocket payments. Take advantage of all possibilities, including taxi, bus, parking or other transportation costs when going to doctor’s appointments. If you drive, keep track of your mileage and use the standard medical deduction of 19 cents per mile.
• If you attend a medical conference to learn how to treat food allergy or another medical condition for yourself or someone in your family, you may be able to deduct admission and transportation costs. As with food costs, the conference must be specific to your condition, and you must attend the necessary sessions. Food and lodging are not deductible.
• Written records don’t get submitted with your tax return – just the bottom line amount of your medical expenses. Keep all your receipts and other records in case the IRS decides to audit you. And remember the IRS can be notoriously slow – they can question a tax return up to three years after you file it.
By Laurie Ross
Reviewed by Erin Malawer, founder of AllergyStrong