The turning of a calendar to a new year brings about several truths adults are familiar with: Gyms are packed with more people and health savings accounts are replenished.
Until now, these two occurrences existed independent of each other. However, a legislative push may soon allow Americans to utilize dollars from their health savings accounts or other pre-tax medical accounts to subsidize the costs of their physical activities.
Currently, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association is working to get Congress to pass the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act. If the PHIT Act is passed, it would allow Americans to place up to $2,000 a year in existing pre-tax medical accounts for reimbursement of physical activity expenses. The reimbursement funds could be utilized for physical activity related expenditures such as, gym memberships; sport and activity registration fees; and sports and fitness equipment that is used exclusively for participation in physical activities.
The Sports and Fitness Industry Association argues that passage of the PHIT Act will lead to greater participation by Americans in physical activities and will promote wellness care in America.
“The Sports and Fitness Industry Association does a lot of research in the sport and fitness area. Years ago, we noticed a decline in participation. We wondered why. Two of the biggest factors were time and money. You have to make the time. We worked to extend Daylight Savings ten years ago. There’s not much more we can do in the time area. On the financial side, what we realized is our society has changed. A generation ago, kids didn’t have to pay money to be on the school sports team. Today, 60-percent of public schools require the paying of a fee to play. If the kids can’t afford the fee, they’re not playing. You don’t see as much causal play out there anymore. Now, if you want to be active, it requires an investment. We asked what we could do to help families and people without a lot of money with the cost of living active healthy lifestyles,” Bill Sells, vice president of government relations for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, explained.
Federal research shows that 28-percent of Americans over the age of six-years-old are physically inactive. A recent Time.com survey found that the average American will spend over $800 on gym memberships, whereas academic research found that families spend up to 10.5-percent of their gross incomes on youth sports.
Proponents of the PHIT Act believe that the legislation will not only decrease the burden of physical activity costs on Americans, but spur higher participation rates.
“The whole idea is a culture change. If you aren’t active as a child, you’re less likely to be active as an adult. Parents who were un-active as children are six-times more likely to have inactive children themselves,” Sells noted.
While Sells notes that the PHIT Act bill has existed in some form for over ten years, he and others believe it’s in great position to be passed soon, due in part to bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
“We have a new congressman who is going to be introducing the bill in the next Congress. He has a great personal story to tell. He’s gotten in shape and gotten off of several medications he was on when he wasn’t in shape. We also have the chairmen of the two tax committees on board with what we’re trying to do here. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is Kevin Brady, who was the former lead sponsor of the PHIT Act. He is now the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation. Those who are going to be sponsoring the bill are on the Joint Committee on Taxation. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee took the physical activity language out of his health savings account reform bill and replaced it with the PHIT Act language,” Sells said.
For Sells and those in support of the PHIT Act, passage of the act presents Americans with options.
“The PHIT Act doesn’t force anyone to do anything. If you don’t want to use the account to pay for physical activity expenses, it’s you’re choice. But if you’re a person who’s just getting started in life and has a healthcare plan that gives you access to one of these accounts, you’re not going to pay for medical expenses if you’re healthy, but could rather pay for preventative fitness expenses,” Sells remarked.