Deductible medical travel includes a good deal more than just those obvious trips to doctors. For example, the following trips qualify:
Travel to weight loss programs, when doctor recommended for treatment of specific weight-related ailments, such as obesity and high blood pressure, but not for programs meant solely to improve general health and appearance.
Driving a person confined to a wheelchair to school (for example, a doctor stated that attendance at regular school sessions was medically appropriate).
Driving seeing-eye dogs or service animals for mentally challenged or hearing-impaired individuals to veterinarians.
Travel to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Parents’ trips to visit their medically ill child at an 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 a medical conference sponsored by an association that supports research and education concerning the chronic illness of the parent’s child (Revenue Ruling 2000-24).
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 pilgrimage, drawn by their faith in the miraculous cures attributed to the waters of the shrine.
Moreover, medical travel doesn’t include the cost of driving to work when a person is unable to use public transportation because of an illness or disability. For instance, Revenue Ruling 55-261 states that physically disabled persons can’t deduct fares for cabs required to transport them to and from work.
The agency doesn’t 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’d 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 IRS tried to limit her medical transportation deduction to driving to and from medical appointments. But Mary took the dispute to 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, it drew the line: It refused to allow any deduction for the actual cost of the car.
Additional articles. A reminder for accountants who would welcome advice on how to alert clients to tactics that trim taxes for this year and even give a head start for next year: Delve into the archive of my articles (more than 275 and counting).
Attorney and author Julian Block is frequently quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He has been cited as “a leading tax professional” (New York Times), an “accomplished writer on taxes...