The PHIT Act Is an Investment in Health: A New Federal Legislation Opportunity Would Provide Tax Incentives for Fitness

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Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. We hear these words on an ever-increasing basis, and they are just a few of the consequences of obesity. The statistics are staggering--more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are obese, and more than two-thirds (69.2 percent) are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We must ask that at a time when healthcare costs are skyrocketing and we are in middle of an obesity epidemic, how can we make a real impact?

U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) has introduced legislation to offer a fiscal incentive to ease the financial burden of engaging in healthy behavior, encouraging Americans to make a choice to be more active, and park and recreation agencies are critical to the solution. Rep. Kind introduced the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act of 2013 (H.R. 956), which would amend the Internal Revenue Service's medical care tax deduction to include qualified sports and fitness expenses. The bill defines "qualified sports and fitness expenses" as amounts paid for fitness facility memberships, physical exercise programs and exercise equipment. If it passes, Americans would be able to use up to $1,000 each year ($2,000 for married couples filing jointly or heads of households) in pretax dollars for preventative physical activity fees. Included inside this definition would be expenditures such as membership at a recreation or fitness facility; youth and adult sports league fees; exercise classes and personal trainers; youth camps; organized running event registration fees; and class fees for martial arts, gymnastics and other physical activities. Obviously, these types of activities get people physically active, and the hope is that by incentivizing people to engage in these types of activities, we will see a steady decline in our country's obesity rates.

Currently, pretax medical expenditure accounts known as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) focus more on reimbursement of medical expenses when you are already sick or injured, such as prescriptions or medical insurance deductibles, rather than preventative care. If the PHIT Act passes, these accounts would be eligible for use inside the qualified physical activity definitions. This would help reduce the financial burden that may limit an individual or family decision to be more physically active.

At a time when Congress is at a standstill on so many issues, particularly healthcare, we have seen growing bipartisan support with the PHIT Act. This bill currently has 15 Democrats and 13 Republicans as co-sponsors on a healthcare-related tax bill. …