A proposed federal bill could provide a financial incentive to get folks active — even in the pool.
The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act was reintroduced to Congress in March. If passed, it would allow people to use pre-tax dollars, such as those in a health savings account, to cover qualified fitness expenses.
Currently, money in health-care accounts can only be used for doctor’s visits, medical procedures and medication. House bill H.R. 1267 and Senate bill S. 482 would amend the Internal Revenue Code so that gym memberships, pool passes, sports league and parks-and-rec fees would be tax deductible up to $1,000, or $2,000 for families.
“The PHIT Act reduces the financial burden that can be associated with certain fitness-related purchases, which would make it easier for Americans and their families to prioritize health and wellness — and hopefully save money on future doctor visits, too,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), one of four senators who reintroduced the bill, in a press statement.
Previous efforts to pass the legislation have gained widespread bipartisan support. In the last legislative session, it gained 90 cosponsors from the House and 13 from the Senate.
Health-and-wellness associations are championing the bill as a way to combat the nation’s couch-potato pandemic — and sell more gym memberships. The International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) figured that if the number of Americans who exercise increased by just 1%, the health industry would gain 500,000 new members — more than a few of which would be swimmers, presumably.
IHRSA also calculated that the tax break would save families an average of 20- to 30% on fitness costs each year. It’s perhaps for that reason that 78% of families support it, according to a recent survey by the National Recreation and Park Association. The NRPA noted that only 10% of Americans oppose the idea.
Likewise, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which originally helped write PHIT several years ago, advocated for the bill on Capitol Hill as part of National Health Through Fitness Day on March 22.
The aquatics industry is backing PHIT, too.
Lauren Stack, mission development director for the National Swimming Pool Foundation, believes anything that could help get people moving again would only be a good thing for the industry.
“This winter I have addressed several pool industry groups suggesting that our true competitor is the time and money people spend on things that make them inactive,” such as TVs, cable, video games, Internet, computers and smart phones. “We support PHIT wholeheartedly.”
In addition to the tax break, an associated advocacy organization called PHIT America is helping to conserve current levels of federal funding for physical education classes in schools, which could help keep more school swimming pools open.
“That’s a great opening for our industry,” Stack said. “If we work together to encourage swimming and promote the benefits of water, we will ensure that water sports top the list of activities of more and more children.”
The Association of Aquatic Professionals also believes the bill could get more people involved in water aerobics. “I would think that this would have a very positive impact on aquatics fitness classes and lap swimming,” said Executive Director Juliene Hefter.
Not every physical activity qualifies for a tax break. For example, you would not be allowed to write off towel fees or swim lessons at exclusive clubs or resorts. Those facilities, and those that offer hunting, sailing and golf, would be exempt.