Medical Deductions For Travel Expenses
By Julian Block
The law makes it difficult for individuals who itemize on Schedule A of Form 1040 to take a deduction for medical expenses not covered by insurance, reimbursed by an employer, or otherwise satisfied. These expenses are allowable only to the extent that they exceed 7.5 percent of your AGI.
Assuming you incur costs that surpass the 7.5 percent threshold, an often-overlooked outlay begins as soon as you leave home. Your deductibles include travel for medical reasons to and from doctors, clinics, hospitals and the like. When you travel to and from your treatments by planes, trains, buses or taxis, just make sure to keep track of your fares and claim them as medical expenses.
If you use your own auto, you have two options on handling the expenses. Either claim actual costs of gas and oil (but not depreciation on your vehicle) or use a standard mileage rate, with a separate deduction for parking fees and bridge or highway tolls. The standard rate is 13 cents a mile for tax year 2002, up from 12 cents for 2001. If your medical mileage tends to be small, as is usually the case, you probably prefer the standard rate for convenience.
EXAMPLE. To obtain medical care this year, you drive 1,000 miles and pay $50 for parking charges and bridge tolls. Your allowable deduction: $180 (1,000 miles times 13 cents equals $130, plus $50 parking).
TIP It is advisable, in the event the IRS questions your medical travel, to be able to substantiate your deductions with a glove-compartment diary in which you note why and how far you went, as well as what you spent on parking. There is no requirement that you use the same car each time. Also, you are free to use more than one car at the same time. If you rent an auto and drive it just for medical travel, include the entire rental charge with your other medical expenses.
CAUTION. Drive within the speed limit. The IRS refuses to go along with a medical deduction for a traffic ticket, even if you were racing the stork to the hospital.
How the IRS and the courts define medical travel. It includes a good deal more than just those obvious trips to doctors. For example, the following trips qualify:
- Driving a person confined to a wheelchair to school (a doctor stated that attendance at regular school sessions was medically appropriate).
- Driving to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
- Parents' trips to visit their medically ill child at institution, where their visits were an essential part of the child's treatment.
- A wife's visits to her husband at a hospital, where her presence was indispensable because of his weakened postoperative condition.
- A parent's trip to Europe to bring back a son who became ill while vacationing there; the parent made the trip only because the son was incapable of traveling alone (Ruling 7813004).
- A wife's plane trip with her ailing husband to a hospital for surgery, because he breathed through a tracheotomy tube and was unable to speak.
Some kinds of medical travel fail to qualify. The courts back IRS disallowances of deductions for trips to places like Lourdes by those who make pilgrimages, drawn by their faith in the miraculous cures attributed to the waters of the shrine.
Moreover, medical travel does not include the cost of driving to work when a person is unable to use public transportation because of an illness or disability. For instance, the IRS ruled that cab fares required to transport a physically disabled person to and from work are nondeductible (Rev. Rul. 55-261).
But the agency does not always have its way. Consider the unusual case of Mary Bordas, whose face was disfigured when she was thrown through her windshield in an auto accident. Mary underwent 14 plastic surgery operations, and her facial injuries affected her mental condition. Her doctor advised against using public transportation, where she would be exposed to curious stares. He also insisted she drive an auto to visit friends as therapy for her mental condition. Therefore, Mary bought a new Chrysler that she drove extensively for social purposes, as well as between her home and her doctor's office.
The tax collectors tried to limit her medical transportation deduction to driving to and from medical appointments. But she challenged the feds in the Tax Court and won a partial victory. The court gave its blessing to a deduction for "all the driving she did to alleviate her mental condition." But there the court drew the line. It refused to allow any deduction for the actual cost of the car.