Sales Tax Slice: Nothing To Sneeze At: Allergy Sufferers Could Use Some Tax Relief, Too



Spring has finally sprung. The days are longer. The sun shines brighter. March Madness is in full swing. And, here in Washington, DC, the Cherry Blossoms are trying to kill us. At least, that’s the way it feels to more than a few of my colleagues and other area residents who find themselves sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, coughing and popping allergy symptom relief capsules every four hours. Sales tax is likely the farthest thing from your mind when you’re clambering for relief from a glassy-eyed hay fever haze. But seeing as how this year marks the earliest arrival of spring in our lifetime, the occasion seemed like a good opportunity to consider allergy medications and sales taxes. 

If you’re unlucky enough to suffer from seasonal allergies that are not severe enough to require a doctor’s prescription, you’re going to feel the additional discomfort of paying tax for your relief. Most states allow an exemption for medications purchased with a prescription. Unfortunately, buying your favorite over-the-counter allergy aid without a prescription will come with a sales tax consequence, in the majority of states. 

And, as run down as we might feel here in the District, try living in one of the top five “Allergy Capitals of 2016,” as ranked by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, based on pollen scores, availability of allergists and allergy medication usage. Of the top five allergy capitals, Jackson, MS; Memphis, TN; Syracuse, NY; Louisville, KY; and McAllen, TX, three are located in states that impose sales tax on nonprescription medications. The other two states, New York and Texas, allow an exemption from sales tax for over-the-counter drugs and medicines intended to cure, mitigate, prevent, or treat human illness. Mercifully, that would include allergy treatment products. By the way, the District of Columbia, which ranked 84 out of the top 100 allergy capitals, exempts both prescription and nonprescription medicines. 

Even if you’re not plagued by springtime symptoms of itchy eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion, it’s hard not to empathize with the seasonal victims all around us. Perhaps the allergy sufferers of America should unite behind a movement for sales tax relief for products that provide allergy relief. States have adopted sales tax holidays for school supplies, Energy Star appliances, firearms, and severe weather preparedness. Maybe there’s room for another sales tax holiday in the states. A lot of people just might breathe a little easier.

Continue the discussion on Bloomberg BNA’s State Tax Group on LinkedIn: Should allergy sufferers, or headache or pain sufferers, get sales tax relief? Is it time for the states to adopt a sales tax exemption that treats both prescription and nonprescription drugs equitably?

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By René Y. Blocker