Laser eye surgery isn't covered by most medical insurance policies, but the Internal Revenue Service has some good news for you if you're thinking about having the procedure done. You might be able to deduct the cost of the surgery on your tax return as a medical expense.
Laser eye surgery is specifically mentioned in the rules cited in IRS Publication 502.
What Is LASIK Surgery?
LASIK, or "laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis," is a refractive procedure that's most often done on an outpatient basis. It's commonly used to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.
A laser is used to reshape the cornea—the round dome located at the front of the eye. This enhances the way the eye focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye and improves vision.
The Tax Definition of a Medical Expense
LASIK surgery falls under the IRS' "medical expenses" category. The IRS defines medical expenses as, "the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body."
These expenses include payments for legal medical services rendered by physicians, surgeons, dentists, and other medical practitioners, as well as the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. As such, LASIK surgery is considered a qualified medical expense.
You Have To Itemize to Claim Your LASIK Surgery
Assuming your LASIK procedure qualifies as laser surgery and as a medical expense, you'll have to itemize your deductions on your tax return in order to claim it. That means you can't also claim the standard deduction for your filing status.
You must tally up everything you paid toward medical expenses for yourself and your dependents over the course of the year. Add to that all other expenses you paid that qualify as being tax deductible, including things like charitable donations and mortgage interest. You'd then enter the total on Schedule A, which you must then attach to your tax return.
The sum of your Schedule A deductions is what you'll enter on Line 11 of Form 1040 in lieu of the standard deduction.
A Limitation on Medical Expenses
Unfortunately, you may not be able to claim all your LASIK expenses when you're coming up with that total of itemized deductions on Schedule A of your tax return. You can only deduct the part of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) on Schedule A (Form 1040 or 1040-SR). The 7.5% threshold used to be 10%, but legislative changes at the end of 2019 lowered it.
As an example, you can only deduct medical expenses that exceed $4,875 if your AGI is $65,000. If your total medical expenses for your LASIK surgery were $7,000, you could claim a $2,125 deduction ($7,000-$4,875).
Related Expenses Might Be Deductible
The IRS also allows you to deduct various other expenses that are related to your LASIK procedure in addition to the actual cost of the surgery.
Associated deductible expenses include:
- Travel expenses incurred to get to and from your surgery. They include bus, train, or cab fares, as well as the price of gasoline if you have someone drive you there. You have the option of instead claiming 16 cents per mile for tax year 2021 if you travel by automobile.
- In-hospital food, as well as lodging if you're required to stay overnight following the surgery.
Find Out Whether You Should Itemize
Check with an accountant before making the decision to get LASIK surgery so you can write it off.
As a general rule of thumb, itemizing is only a good thing if the total amount of your itemized expenses is greater than the standard deduction for your filing status. You'll probably want to forgo claiming a deduction for the surgery if the total amount of all your itemized deductions is less than your standard deduction, so you wouldn't receive any extra tax break.
The standard deduction for a single taxpayer is $12,550 for tax year 2021 and $12,950 in tax year 2022. You would therefore need at least $12,551 in total itemized deductions to make claiming medical expenses worth your while.
A tax professional can help you explore all of the itemized deductions that might be available to you. The largest deductions for most people who itemize come in the form of mortgage interest and property taxes, so these could put you over the standard deduction amount if you own your home and have even a modest mortgage—before you factor in how much your surgery will cost you over that 7.5% threshold.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is LASIK a qualified medical expense?
Yes, LASIK surgery is a qualified medical expense. However, you can only claim a deduction for the amount of your surgery that exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If 7.5% of your AGI is $6,000 and your LASIK surgery cost $2,000, you would be able to deduct it assuming you had no other itemized deductions.