The American Council on Exercise has been actively supporting an interesting federal bill, the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (S.2218/H.R.1218), throughout the current Congress. PHIT recognizes and prioritizes the important role physical activity plays in health, particularly in the prevention and management of chronic diseases and obesity, by allowing Health Savings Account and Flexible Spending Account funds to be used for qualifying physical activity expenses. An array of physical activity expenses would be covered, from personal training and group exercise to health club memberships and youth and adult sports leagues.
Passing a bill in Congress is a long and arduous road that begins with sponsorship of the bill by a member of Congress. The next step is to gain the support of several other members, signaling to Congressional leadership that the bill has widespread appeal. Most bills are introduced in multiple Congresses before they become law (if ever!) and PHIT is no exception, having been introduced in the past five Congresses.
Not only is this the first time PHIT has been introduced in both the Senate and the House, which is a breakthrough in and of itself, but it has reached a new and important milestone in its path toward becoming law—the combined Senate and House bills received sponsorship from their 100th Congressional member on July 17, 2016. Support is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans—a rare occurrence in a period of political partisanship. This demonstrates to Congressional leadership that there is broad interest among its members to encourage active lifestyles and recognize the health benefits of physical activity.
ACE advocates for legislation that supports, incentivizes and encourages efforts to get people moving. The high cost of safe and effective physical activity is a financial burden for many people, which contributes to an increase in sedentary lifestyles. Roughly one-quarter of children and youth in the U.S. meets the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation to get at least 60 minutes of activity per day. Physical activity habits established in adolescence often carry into adulthood, contributing to the increase in the number of adults living with preventable health conditions. It is estimated that sedentary adults pay $1,500 more per year in health care costs than their active counterparts. Breaking down cost barriers associated with physical activity provides individuals a needed jumpstart to make fitness a fundamental part of where they work, play, live and receive care.
Legislation like the PHIT Act prioritizes preventive care at a time when chronic disease rates and the cost of providing treatment are at an all-time high. Redefining medical expenses under the IRS to include qualified physical activity is an important step toward highlighting the significant role that well-qualified fitness professionals can and should play in the health and well-being of our communities. Passage of this bill will allow fitness professionals to make their services more accessible and affordable to a larger, more diverse population, which in turn can help to expand their businesses.
We need you—each and every one of you—to take action now so we can continue to generate support for PHIT in Congress. Joining this effort only takes a few minutes, but it makes an enormous difference. You may think, “I am not into politics,” but this isn’t about political bickering and partisanship. This is about our nation investing in its health by making professionally-led physical activity more affordable. This is about your business. This is about reducing the billions of dollars American spends each year on health care.