Which Pumps Won’t Health Insurance Cover?

Ran out of the adhesives to keep your dentures in place? No worries, the Internal Revenue Service will give you a tax break on new ones. Suffering from an attack of the killer zits? The I.R.S. agrees this is a health concern worth giving a tax break for. How about allergic to grass? If you want, you could probably get a tax break for installing astro-turf, according to The New York Times.

And if your manlihood is suffering from a crisis of impotence, the I.R.S. will let you write off a penis pump on your taxes, too, at least according to the Lousiville Examiner.

But how about if you need a breast pump to help you breastfeed?

Alas, the IRS has decided you’re out of luck.

On Tuesday, the I.R.S. rejected an appeal made by the American Academy of Pediatrics to add breastfeeding costs to the list of medical expenses covered by tax breaks, on the grounds that breastfeeding doesn’t count as a quality form of health care. This decision that breast-feeding doesn’t merit a tax break goes against a flurry of scientific research stating the opposite: Babies fed breast milk receive antibodies that can reduce the chance of them catching diseases, and a recent study released by the Harvard Medical School shows that if 90 percent of mothers follow the health guidelines by breastfeeding their infants in the first six months, the Federal Government could save $13 billion a year and prevent the premature deaths of 900 infants a year. Currently, only 75 percent of mothers start off breastfeeding, according to a survey [PDF] released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to The New York Times, the I.R.S. justified their decision using the following bizarre logic:

I.R.S. officials say they consider breast milk a food that can promote good health, the same way that eating citrus fruit can prevent scurvy. But because the I.R.S. code considers nutrition a necessity rather than a medical condition, the agency’s analysts view the cost of breast pumps, bottles and pads as no more deserving of a tax break than an orange juicer.

Society already makes it hard enough for a woman to breastfeed. From Facebook’s removal of breastfeeding profile pictures to de facto barriers to breastfeeding in public, the truth is that for many women who want to breastfeed and adhere to the six-month guideline, the only practical and harassment-free way to achieve that (and be able to leave the house once in a blue moon) is to use a breast pump. And for women who don’t receive paid maternity leave and work in places where babies are not allowed, buying or renting a breast pump–which can sometimes cost over $1,000–can be a heavy burden. Rules like this one send the message that breastfeeding women should simply stay at home.

The only upside of the decision is that women were granted the right to take unpaid breaks at work to pump milk. But if the price of a breast pump is too high, is this really useful–or just a band-aid to cover up a bad policy?

Photo from Flickr.com user planet_oleary through Creative Commons License 2.0


Kathleen Richter is a recent graduate of the University of California, San Diego in the field of International Studies. She has been a feminist ever since kindergarten when she proved that she too could belch with the best of them. When she is not engaged in life-sustaining activities, she is most likely either drawing feminist comics or writing feminist sentences.