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The Democrats are at it again, said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.: Trying to get the government to solve all our problems.
"I’ve given birth to five babies, and I’ve breast-fed every single one of these babies," Bachmann said on The Laura Ingraham Show. "To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies? You want to talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition of the nanny state."
We decided to fact-check Bachmann’s catchy sound bite after seeing it repeated in the media this week.
Bachmann’s comments were prompted by a decision from the Internal Revenue Service to change the way it classifies breast pumps and related supplies. Previously, the IRS said breast pumps were not medical expenses because they were related to nutrition. And nutrition -- i.e., food -- is not a medical expense.
On Feb. 10, the IRS announced it had reconsidered, and that it had decided breast pumps are in fact used for medical care. Like obstetric care, breast pumps "are for the purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body of the lactating woman," the IRS said in its ruling.
So does this mean free breast pumps for mom? Hardly.
Formally, it means that breast pumps can be treated like other medical expenses that are tax deductible. Keep in mind, the hurdle for directly deducting medical expenses is quite high: The out-of-pocket expenses have to exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted income before you can begin deducting them.
More commonly, it means people can now buy breast pumps using money from flexible health spending accounts.
Many employers offer these accounts, which allow workers to save part of their paychecks tax-fee to a personal account that can be used only for health care costs. Because the money isn’t taxed, people are able to set aside more for health expenses than they would otherwise.
The accounts have restrictions, though. There’s a limit to how much can go to the accounts, currently $2,500. People have to save all their receipts and submit them to an administrator in most cases. And if there’s money in the account at the end of the year, the employer gets to keep it. Because of the use-it-or-lose-it provision, people tend to use these accounts for predictable health expenses, not emergencies.
In addition to the IRS announcement, breastfeeding has been in the news because First Lady Michelle Obama said recently that she hoped to promote breast-feeding through her "Let’s Move" campaign to prevent childhood obesity. Obama said that studies have linked breast-feeding to lower obesity rates.
Radio host Laura Ingraham, who asked Bachmann about breast pumps, questioned Obama’s motivation for the "Let’s Move" campaign, and speculated that the First Lady might intend to run for office later.
Bachmann, though, said she doubted that Obama was motivated by self-interest. "I think honestly she is really committed to the far left agenda, more than anything else," Bachmann said.
We should note that Ingraham was accurate in explaining that breast pumps were being newly classified as a medical expense, and hence tax deductible. Bachmann, though, described the decision incorrectly when she said, "To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies? You want to talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition of the nanny state." Those remarks have been widely reported.
It’s a catchy sound bite, but like a lot of sound bites, it’s not so accurate. The government will not buy you a breast pump. Rather, it will now allow you to treat money you spend on the pumps as a deductible medical expense.
Bachmann's statement suggests a large government program to purchase and provide the devices when in fact the government is actually treating them as tax-deductible, like countless other things. We rate her statement False.
Internal Revenue Service, Announcement 2011-14: Lactation Expenses as Medical Expenses, Feb. 10, 2011
The Laura Ingraham Show, interview with Michele Bachmann, Feb. 15, 2011
Politico, Michele Bachmann swipes at Michelle Obama, Feb. 15, 2011
The New York Times, Breast-Feeding Supplies Win Tax Breaks From I.R.S., Feb. 10, 2011
The New York Times, Letter from the IRS to Rep. Sander Levin, Jan. 31, 2011
PolitiFact, Flexible spending accounts under health care reform might get new limits, Oct. 15, 2009
Politics Daily, Michelle Obama to Promote Breastfeeding as IRS Gives Tax Breaks for Nursing, Feb. 16, 2011
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