How About This Health Care Act That Both Democrats And Republicans Support

Think Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything healthcare related? Well, here’s something that has a good amount of bipartisan support in Congress:  the ‘‘Personal Health Investment Today Act’’, otherwise known as the ‘‘PHIT Act.’’

You know those Pre-Tax Medical Accounts that allow you to set aside pre-tax dollars from your paycheck to cover medical, dental, and vision care expenses, thus saving you taxes on these amounts? Well, the PHIT Act would allow you to use these accounts to pay for various physical activity expenses. So, you could charge that health club membership, that cost of sports equipment or a personal trainer, or that entry fee for a 5K race to your Flexible Savings Account (FSAs) and Heath Savings Account (HSAs) and save some money. Other allowable costs include fees for sports leagues and camps, fitness classes, and various athletic competitions. Of course, before you plan on hiring 700 personal trainers, one for each muscle in your body, there are limits to what you could charge to an HSA a year: $2,000 for a family or jointly filing couple, $1000 for an individual, and $250 for each item or purchase.

This could not only save you money if you already have such expenses but also help if cost is preventing you from getting exercise. As Tom Cove, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, explained, “cost is a big barrier for many low income families to participate in sports. For example, teens from 67% of low income families do not play in school sports.”

Jim Baugh (center), former President of Wilson, the tennis racket manufacturer, leads PHIT America, which has advocated for the passage of the PHIT Act. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Wilson)

The PHIT Act is part of a growing effort to have physical activity and sports viewed more as a health intervention than just something you do for fun. Basically, more doctors should be telling their patients to take a hike…preferably a more strenuous one…or run away…or get some other type of more vigorous physical activity. For example, a decade ago, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) co-launched an initiative called Exercise is Medicine (EIM). Studies have shown that lack of physical activity raises the risk of many different diseases and health issues, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, anxiety, and depression. Data has also shown that most adults and children are not getting recommended levels of physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), barely over 20% of adults meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines and under 30% of high school students reach an hour of physical activity every day. As mentioned in a previous Forbes piece, our study published in Health Affairs estimated that physical inactivity among children in the U.S. is costing businesses and everyone who pays taxes and for insurance billions of dollars a year.

Cost can prevent many kids, especially those in low income families, from participating in sports. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Laureus)

Representative Jerry Weller (R-Illinois) introduced the first version of the PHIT Act in May 2006, and re-introductions of the PHIT Act has occurred every Congress since then. The latest version, the PHIT Act of 2017, introduced to the 115th Congress, has enjoyed support from both sides of the Congressional square dance, even though HSAs have been thought of as a Republican concept. In the House of Representatives, the Act had Rep. Jason Smith (R-Missouri) as the sponsor and 48 co-sponsors consisting of 32 Democrats and 16 Republicans. In the Senate, John Thune (R-South Dakota) was the sponsor and co-sponsors included Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), John McCain (R-Arizona), Christopher Murphy (D-Connecticut), Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). Bipartisan support is not new but seems to be growing from previous years.