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Pay a family member’s medical expenses, get a tax break

Your Money: What to know about medical ID theft and tax savings


Erin E.  Arvedlund

Published Friday, November 15, 2013, Inquirer.com

Ever wonder why the doctor’s office asks for your identification? Because health care is so expensive, criminals often try to steal your identity and use it to get care fraudulently.

It is called medical ID theft: Scammers use your name and identity to fraudulently receive medical benefits, prescription drugs, even undergo surgery.

When the Affordable Care Act website – www.healthcare.gov – malfunctioned, that posed serious risks for those applying for themselves and family members, says Leon LaRosa, an expert on fraud.

“This unstable website often provides criminals the opportunity to exploit glitches to gain unauthorized access and read data,” said LaRosa, certified fraud examiner and chair at LaRosa & Associates, an accounting firm in Exton. It could pose a risk of having your medical identity stolen, he added.

Some things to consider to protect yourself from medical-identity theft:

Register for insurance by phone and avoid using healthcare.gov until it is certified as a secure website. Get more information about the Health Insurance Marketplace via phone at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325).

Examine your insurer’s explanation of benefits, received after you pay for medical services. The document can reveal red flags of medical-identity theft, such as types of procedures and exams for which you are billed but that you did not receive.

Do not share your personal identification with family members or someone you know so they can obtain treatment, health-care products, or pharmaceuticals.

Health-care deductions

That warning aside, if you decide to pay for a family member’s medical expenses, you can get a tax break.

Medical expenses you pay on behalf of a dependent, such as a parent or grandparent, can be added to your own itemized medical-expense deductions.

For a person to be your dependent, you must pay more than half of that person’s support for the year, says Martin Abo of Abo & Co., certified public accountants in Mount Laurel and Morrisville. “While the taxpayer must still clear the applicable income threshold to claim an itemized medical-expense deduction, including a supported person’s expenses in the pot can really help,” Abo said.

Caveat: Medical expenses are deductible only by the person who actually pays them. Additionally, you must pay the health-care providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) directly to avoid a gift tax.

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