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The Government gives tax break for Obesity!

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April 3, 2002

This week, the IRS announced it would recognize obesity as a disease, and has ruled that obese individuals can deduct the cost of doctor-prescribed weight-loss programs. Previously, weight-loss expenses have not qualified for a deduction if a person's weight did not contribute to other illnesses. Since 2000, weight-loss program costs could be deducted if the program was prescribed to treat other diseases such as hypertension, diabetes or heart disease. The new rule recognizes that obesity is a disease in its own right, thus making it easier for individuals to write off their out-of-pocket expenses. "The ruling should help a considerable number of people," says Jackie Viteri. Maybe. But, for several reasons, it won't have an immediate impact in the war on fat. Any weight-loss program must be prescribed by a physician. The cost of special diet foods can't be included since individuals have to pay for their food whether they're losing weight or not.

Medical costs can be deducted only if they exceed 7.5 percent of a person's adjusted gross income. This strict requirement keeps most Americans from claiming medical deductions. According to the IRS, only 4 percent of filers deduct their medical costs. For more information about various medical costs that may qualify for a deduction see IRS Publication 502. Finally, it is far from given that insurance companies will begin covering weight-loss treatments. "What tends to drive coverage is good science about the effectiveness of particular treatments," said Susan Pisano, spokesperson at American Association of Health Plans. "When we get information that suggests that particular approaches are effective in treating obesity, when there's proof they work, then those services will be covered," she said.

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