By Ken Berry
In the wake of her highly publicized breakup with husband Ashton Kutcher last year, actress Demi Moore spiraled out of control, leading to extreme weight loss, convulsions, and other medical issues. At this point, Moore's camp, which includes her physicians, isn't providing any details about her physical and mental condition, but we can assume she's receiving the care she needs.
Fans of the Hollywood A-lister - who rocketed to fame in the movie St. Elmo's Fire and starred in such films as Ghost and Striptease - are wondering if she'll ever recover. But certain tax pundits have raised another interesting question: Can Moore write off the cost of her medical expenses if her illnesses are self-inflicted?
Let's quickly review the basic rules. To qualify as a deductible medical expense on a federal income tax return, the cost must be incurred primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. This includes expenses for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and for the cost of treatment affecting any function of the body. It also covers the cost of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices required for these purposes. Similarly, the deduction is extended to qualified dental expenses. (See IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses, Including the Health Coverage Tax Credit.
Both the IRS and the courts have issued countless rulings and decisions related to specific types of medical and dental expenses. For instance, the cost of prescription drugs qualifies as a deductible medical expense, but you can't write off costs of marijuana and other federally controlled substances, even in states with laws permitting their purchase and use for medical reasons. Neither can you deduct the costs of weight loss programs to improve your general health.
Finally, as you're well aware, a taxpayer may deduct only those qualified unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of his or her adjusted gross income (AGI). Under the 2010 health care law, this threshold is scheduled to increase to 10 percent of AGI beginning in 2013.
The bottom line: There doesn't appear to be any authority in the tax law preventing Moore from deducting her medical expenses, although they may stem from her own personal demons, as long as the costs otherwise qualify under the basic rules and haven't been specifically excluded by an IRS ruling or court case.
Presumably, Moore and Kutcher will file separate federal tax returns for 2011, which will likely give her a better chance of deducting a portion of her medical expenses than she would have if the couple filed jointly. And, with Moore's film career recently on the wane and her income down from her heyday of a decade ago, a medical expense deduction might ease some of her pain.
Whitney Houston – Another Celebrity Who Struggled
The tragic death of Whitney Houston has again raised issues about drug abuse and the role drug abuse treatment programs can play in recovery.
Houston died February 11 in her hotel room at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles hours before she was to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party there. Although full details surrounding her death are not yet known, addiction experts believe that her struggles with substance abuse played a role in her health and her death.
"Chronic cocaine use can exact a damaging physiological toll on the cardiovascular system," said Dessa Bergen-Cico, an assistant professor at Syracuse University. "There is little question that her years of cocaine use would have caused cardiovascular health problems endemic to heavy cocaine use, notably damage to heart muscles, coronary arteries and blood vessels."
Houston's first acting role was as the star of the feature film The Bodyguard, and the movie's lead single, I Will Always Love You, became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. After years of success, many believe Houston fell into a world of chaos and self-destruction after her marriage to Bobby Brown, who allegedly abused her.
Although Houston entered rehab multiple times, she was likely unable to break the cycle of relapse and recovery that traps many addicts.