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Breast-Feeding Gets A Boost Amid The Health Policy Wars

With the House expected to vote to defund last year's health overhaul law and frequent battles in the Senate over repealing the law all together, things have been pretty ugly here in Washington.

But this week brought a small win for moms. A group of lawmakers are celebrating a decision by the Internal Revenue Service to allow women to deduct the cost of breast pumps and other breast-feeding supplies.

The policy change means that from now on, taxpayers will be able to get back the money shelled out for breast-feeding supplies, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

It's not super easy (is anything dealing with the IRS easy?) But women in the know can now get reimbursed if they use money from their Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts. Or, they can deduct the costs from their income taxes — if they have other medical expenses that make up more than 7.5 percent of their income.

"This is good news for nursing moms, and a welcome recognition of scientific fact by the IRS: breast-feeding has significant health benefits," said (D-NY), who has led the charge for over a decade. Previously, breastfeeding supplies weren't deductible because the IRS considered them a nutritional expense, rather than a medical one.

The change was also lauded by the . "For years, the AAP has been urging the IRS to recognize that breast milk is not just the best and most natural food for infants; it confers well-documented health benefits on both baby and mother that cannot be obtained any other way," AAP President Dr. O. Marion Burton said in a statement.

Rep. Maloney was the lead sponsor of a 1999 law that expressly permits breast-feeding on federal property.

But apparently not everyone got the message. The Washington Post reportedearlier this week that a woman attempting to breast-feed her baby on a bench at the (part of the federal Smithsonian complex) was asked by a security guard to do it in the ladies' restroom instead. When she said there was no place to sit in the restroom, the guard "told her to try sitting on the toilet."

In response, a number of breast-feeding mothers are planning a "nurse-in" at the museum this weekend. And it's now tax deductible.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie Rovner is a health policy correspondent for NPR specializing in the politics of health care.Reporting on all aspects of health policy and politics, Rovner covers the White House, Capitol Hill, the Department of Health and Human Services in addition to issues around the country. She served as NPR's lead correspondent covering the passage and implementation of the 2010 health overhaul bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.