Let’s face it — being gluten-free makes we celiacs healthier, but it also empties our pocketbooks.  In some countries, the government may have some type of involvement or assistance in our prescription diet — the US government helps reimburse you for some  gluten-free food costs.  But by contrast– there are new government restrictions being taken across the pond regarding gluten-free food coverage.  Two interesting takes on the subject.

Gluten Free Finances in the US

No matter what it is: bread, bagels, pretzels….on average many gluten-free items are 3-4 times more expensive than the “regular” version.  That added cost is really tough.  So tough, in fact, some countries subsidize prescription diets.  But not here in the US.  The best way the US government helps relieve your gluten-free food cost burden is by giving you a break on taxes…that is if you are organized and anal retentive (and I mean that in the nicest of ways) enough to track down everything to the penny.

This information is particularly helpful this time of year, however I feel it is a decision better made in the year prior to presenting it to your tax person or the IRS because there is a lot of work involved.

Celiac.com laid out the basics many years ago, but I really think it is great information.  The bottom line is, you can get reimbursed for the difference you pay for gluten free foods, but you need to have a doctor’s note indicating you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease.  So if you used to buy bread for $1 and now you spend $6.00 on bread, $5.00 is tax deductible.  My problem with this is what is the “regular” food standard?  As we all know you can buy generic white bread for $1.00 or a more wholesome whole-wheat bread for more like $3.00.  So what do you compare the gluten free bread to: The wholesome bread or the basic white bread?

Assuming you can get past this hurdle (as I clearly have not yet),  then celiac.com says you “save all cash register tapes, receipts and canceled checks to substantiate your gluten-free purchases.”  Plus you need to create a list (that you keep) of grocery prices for the “regular items” to show how you came up with your tax deduction.  There are other tax deductions that include your trips to the health food store and the cost for shipping your gluten-free purchases to your home.

As important as figuring out those details, it is equally important to know that as of that posting, this tax deduction is ONLY for people diagnosed with celiac disease.   You would need to attach a letter from your doctor along with your tax return.  I unfortunately have not been able to find anything more lenient (like for gluten sensitive folks or those who don’t have an official diagnosis).  If anyone has proof of a change in the law on this, please comment below and we will look into it.  If you are interested in trying the tax deduction, I highly recommend you take a peek at celiac.com for more tips.

Another option to save money is to try and make as much food from scratch as possible. Eating things that are naturally gluten-free I think is generally cheaper; like fruits, vegetables and  meat.  Then you don’t need to bother with a tax deduction.

Gluten Free in other Countries

Yes, other countries help celiac families in some way with their expenses in having a prescription diet.   I know in Norway families get money for gluten-free groceries every month (according to our exchange student we had from Norway in 2008-2009).  But a report on Monday out of the UK showed that one community wants to censor which gluten-free products they prescribe out.  The Bolton News reports,

“Prescriptions for gluten-free cakes and biscuits have been stopped in Bolton — because some patients are getting too fat.  Health chiefs have decided to stop allowing people diagnosed with coeliac disease to get alternative sweet items from the NHS [the people who prescribe the food].” — The Bolton News; January 31, 2011

Government officials hope the change will save them about a quarter of a million dollars a year, plus curb the their concerns about celiacs becoming overweight.

“Traditionally, coeliac disease patients have been able to get prescriptions for specialist foods, which are more expensive than normal products and used to be difficult to access.  Although many still have to pay for prescriptions, patients say that it still works out much cheaper.  Now NHS Bolton, the primary care trust (PCT) which oversees local health services, has taken cakes, sweet biscuits and cake mix off the list. Items like bread and rolls will still be available.”

Celiacs can still purchase gluten-free cakes, etc — just not with government help.

The Bolton News talked with Norma McGough with Coeliac UK  which is a support group. She said, “We strongly support the continued prescription of gluten-free staple foods, like bread and flour.  Research suggests ready access to prescription food improves adherence to the gluten-free diet, which is the only treatment for coeliac disease.”


What do you think?  Should the US be doing more for us to defray costs of our prescription food? Maybe it should be under health insurance or prescription coverage? Do you support the NHS in the UK not prescribing cake anymore or is that a little too “big brother” for you?  Let us know!

Another Resource for this:  the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness — Thanks June for posting this on The Savvy Celiac FB page

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7 Responses to “Gluten Free Diets: Should Government Support Prescription Food?”

  1. I do think celiacs should get some sort of tax relief. It should be easier to calculate than deducting the difference of the cost of specialty foods from their standard counterparts. Clearly, this is prohibitively cumbersome Would love to see some sort of “standard” deduction.

  2. Prescriptive food… that terminology absolutely makes my brain want to explode. I’m not one to support government assistance very strongly on any level, so… yeah. You can guess my answers.

    I think we’re just coming to know the damages grains as a food are doing to most everyone. I have been moving away from eating anything made from any grains… they all seem to cause varying degrees of gastric distress for me. I don’t have any clue why; maybe the genetic modifications? I’m no scientist. But, my suspicion is that we’re not mean to eat animal feed. So, I just eat more vegetables. 🙂

  3. I agree with the tax deduction, but I think the government needs to make it a little easier. They should check past returns for people with CD to get an average amount of money spent on GF, then give a standard deduction for that. It would save us all a lot of time & aggravation. I agree with what they’re doing across the pond, too. I think that only completely necessary items should be prescriptive.

    I was diagnosed at 2 years old, and my 7 year old daughter has an appointment with a pediatric GI in 3 weeks; I feel certain that she will be diagnosed with celiac disease then. We have a family of 6 and one income, so a little help would be nice, be it tax deductions or a prescription. I don’t think that the US gov’t should give us an “allowance” for GF food, but if a doctor could write a prescription (just like any medication for any other AI disease) that our health insurance company would cover, I would be more than willing to pay our deductible and copay because that would still be saving me money. That being said, we don’t spend a lot of money on GF food because my hubby & I are both of the mind that naturally GF is healthier for our entire family. After my daughter’s GI appointment, we plan on making our entire family GF. I’m really looking forward to that. 🙂

  4. Just an idea what can be prescribed for those diagnosed by biopsy (the gold standard)

    In the UK only:
    If you are on Social Welfare (security) or pension the following GF foods may be free of charge.(NHS)

    For all others, purchasing a pre-paid prescription costing approx

  5. Sorry Drug Payement Scheme link for Republic of Ireland should be:



  6. Great feedback on all of this. It really is an interesting issue! I think with the US, the tax deduction idea is complicated and as a result many people probably don’t claim it. Which goes with the theory if it were easy, everyone would do it.

    Thank you to David for offering additional information on how prescription food works in Ireland and in the UK.

  7. In the U.S., not only do you have to keep track of what you spend & how much more it is than the regular version, but you can claim it as part of your medical expense. And the medical expense deduction can only be claimed if its over a certain percentage of your income (7 or 8%, I think). Which makes it not worth it for many. Having said that, apparently we came fairly close to being able to use the medical deduction so I’m going to try tracking my gluten free expenses this year. If nothing else, it’ll be useful info to me to know how much I’m spending due to being Celiac.

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