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medical expense deduction

Paying for health insurance and medical bills can get costly. Luckily, you can recoup some of those costs when you file your taxes by taking a deduction for medical expenses. To do so, the expenses in questions must meet the qualifications outlined by the IRS. You should also know that the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act made some changes that make it harder to deduct medical expenses. We’ll show you how to figure out whether your expenses qualify, and how to calculate and take your deductions.

Calculating Your Medical Expense Deduction

medical expense deduction

For the tax years 2017 and 2018, you were eligible to deduct the total amount of your medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For the tax year 2019, you’ll only be able to deduct expenses that exceed 10% of your AGI. This change is due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Donald Trump signed in late 2017.

You can get your deduction by taking your AGI and multiplying it by 10%. If your AGI is $50,000, only qualifying medical expenses over $5,000 can be deducted ($50,000 x 10% = $5,000). If your total medical expenses are $6,000, you can deduct $1,000 of it on your taxes.

Note, however, that you’ll need to itemize deductions to deduct medical expenses. Itemizing deductions only makes sense if the total deductions you qualify for would exceed your standard deduction – a fixed dollar amount that reduces the amount of money you’re taxed on.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act effectively doubled the standard deduction, which makes it less likely that you’ll wind up itemizing. For the tax year 2019, which you’ll file in 2020, the standard deduction limits are as follows:

  • Single or married filing separately — $12,200
  • Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) — $24,400
  • Head of household — $18,350

If the value of your total itemized deductions would exceed your standard deduction, you’ll need to complete a Form 1040 and detail every deduction in an itemized list. The standard deduction may be easier, but if you paid a lot of healthcare expenses or have other deductible expenses, they could help you reduce your tax bill.

Medical Expenses You Can Deduct

Deducting your medical bills

Many medical-related costs can be included in your itemized deductions. Remember that you can only claim medical expenses that you paid for this year only, whether it’s for you, your spouse or another dependent. Dependents can include children and other relatives you care for. Here are the expenses that qualify:

  • Payments you’ve made to doctors, surgeons, dentists, chiropractors, psychiatrists, psychologists and some other nontraditional medical practitioners
  • Insurance premiums for health or long-term care coverage
  • In-home nursing care and inpatient hospital care
  • Inpatient treatment for alcohol or drug addiction
  • Acupuncture treatments
  • Reproductive health: Abortions, birth control and fertility treatments
  • Sterilization, including vasectomies
  • Breast pump and other breastfeeding-related supplies, not including bottles
  • Organ donation and transplants
  • Smoking-cessation programs and prescription drugs that help with nicotine withdrawal
  • Weight-loss programs for a disease diagnosed by a physician
  • Insulin and related prescription drugs
  • Admission and transportation to a medical conference that relates to a chronic illness you, your spouse or a dependent is suffering from
  • False teeth, prescription glasses, contacts, hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, guide dogs and service animals
  • Costs for transportation to and from medical care facilities, including taxis, buses, trains and ambulances. If using your car, standard mileage rate reimbursements qualify (20 cents per mile), as well as out-of-pocket expenses for gas and oil.

A self-employed health insurance deduction is allowed for those who qualify, but it’s adjusted for income and not an itemized deduction.

Medical Expenses You Can’t Deduct

While there’s a decent amount of healthcare costs you can itemize on your taxes, there are a few that don’t qualify, including:

  • Funeral or burial expenses
  • Nonprescription medicines
  • Toothpaste, toiletries and cosmetics
  • Trip or program for the general improvement of health
  • Most cosmetic surgery
  • Nicotine gum and patches that don’t require a prescription
  • Meals and lodging while attending a medical conference
  • Future medical expenses
  • Babysitting or child care
  • Gym or health club memberships
  • Maternity clothes
  • Household help, even if it was recommended by a doctor for your care
  • Nutritional supplements

Any medical expenses that you already get reimbursed for, whether from insurance or from your employer, can’t be deducted on your taxes. You also can’t deduct your employer’s share of health insurance premiums.

If you’re still not sure which expenses qualify, you can determine if it’s eligible through the IRS.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of qualifying medical expenses that can claim on your taxes. But you can only deduct expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. And if your total itemized deductions don’t exceed the new, higher standard deduction, then you won’t take the deduction. Review the list of expenses that qualify (and the ones that don’t), and decide whether it makes sense to take this deduction.

Tax Filing Tips

  • Once you’ve figured out your deductions, you might want to see what your tax return could look like. Use SmartAsset’s tax return calculator to estimate the size of your refund or bill. If your taxes are complicated, it’s a good idea to work with a professional tax preparer or tax prep program.
  • You might also go a step further and work with a financial advisor who can address your overall financial situation – from taxes to investments to retirement readiness. You can find a financial advisor today using our financial advisor matching tool. Just answer some questions about your finances and we’ll match you with up to three advisors in your area – all fully vetted and free of disclosures. Then you can review your matches, interview any that seem like a good fit, and decide which one you’d like to work with.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/cbies ©iStock.com/NoDerog, ©iStock.com/scyther5, ©iStock.com/DNY59

Dori Zinn Dori Zinn has been covering personal finance for nearly a decade. Her writing has appeared in Wirecutter, Quartz, Bankrate, Credit Karma, Huffington Post and other publications. She previously worked as a staff writer at Student Loan Hero. Zinn is a past president of the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and won the national organization's "Chapter of the Year" award two years in a row while she was head of the chapter. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from Florida Atlantic University and currently lives in South Florida.
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