How often do you want to applaud the IRS? For those of you who get a tax refund, maybe once a year. But this week the IRS has made a public health decision that I think deserves a little bit of praise. The IRS announced that breast pumps are now a tax deductible expense (enter your claps and finger snaps here). They can either be purchased with a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account, or for those without FSAs the cost can be tax deductible.
Since I’ve never purchased a pump, I did a quick Google Shopping search. The cheapest pump was 64.99 but they can range into the hundreds of dollars. I can’t help but wonder then if the price of pumps isn’t part of the reason why breastfeeding rates are so low among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.
Now I don’t think this is miraculous, but I do think it is a step in the right direction for helping those who need it most. It’s a little bit of assistance, a little bit of acknowledgement for mothers who are struggling to make the healthy choice, a little bit of the government saying “We hear you.”
It’s a shame Rep. Michelle Bachmann doesn’t feel that way. As she said so eloquently: “I’ve given birth to five babies and breastfed every single one of these babies. To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies — you want to talk about the nanny state. I think you just got the new definition of the nanny.” I don’t want to dwell on the negative, so suffice it to say that if breastfeeding is so easy for her, perhaps she should consider a career change to a wet nurse. Thankfully, many people, many politicians, many women and the First Lady disagree with her.
Hopefully this tax deduction can help bolster the breastfeeding objectives for Healthy People 2020, which hopes to increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed. Affordable pumps should help this goal. Healthy People 2020 also plans to increase the proportion of employers who have worksite lactation areas. A woman who is able to take her affordable pump to her job where there is an onsite lactation room will certainly move the US to achieving this goal.
Three out of four new mothers try breastfeeding, but not even 14% stick it out for six months. So what do you think? Can a tax deduction move mothers in the right direction? Or are we just falling into the most literal interpretation of a nanny state?
Author: Diana Dolinsky