Not much tends to get done in Washington during a Presidential election year, as the bulk of politicians' attention focuses on who will occupy the White House come next January. But if Congress is really interested in serving its constituents, it won't wait till 2017 to approve the PHIT Act.
This pending legislation (which stands for Personal Health Investment Today) would expand the IRS definition of a medical expense to include physical activity as a form of prevention. If passed, families would be able to place up to $2000 a year in a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) to pay for physical activity expenses.
Passing the PHIT Act would represent a sea change in the way our nation treats wellness. Instead of merely having us seek reimbursement for doctor visits and prescription drugs, it would enable us to set aside pre-tax money to pay for gym memberships, tennis court time, race entrance fees, and, for our kids, dance classes, sports leagues, and more, thus saving families hundreds of dollars a year.
Beyond this, it's a terrific idea for our country. Whatever is lost in tax revenues will more than made up for by the reduced health care costs—particularly those related to obesity and diabetes—that will ensue. PHIT will provide the 83 million sedentary Americans with inspiration (and financial motivation) to get moving. A World Health Organization study found that every dollar the U.S. invests in physical activity results in a $3.20 reduction in future medical spending. "The best way to address our health-care crisis is to improve health through exercise and physical activity," says Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
The PHIT Act is particularly important and beneficial for families. Only one quarter of children aged 6 to 15 meet the current guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. This financial incentive will encourage parents get their kids to shut off their screens and participate in organized after school or weekend activities. Plus, moms who use the funds for their own athletic pursuits are helping their little ones too: a study showed that kids develop healthy activity habits based on their mother's lifestyle.
The good news is that the PHIT Act has a real chance of passing. The bill currently has 52 House co-sponsors, and the tax-writing committee chairmen both favor its passage. Support is almost even among Democrats and Republicans, which means PHIT might not fall victim to party politics (though it may wind up as part of a package of healthcare legislation, as often happens on Capitol Hill).
But PHIT needs your nudge to become a law. Contact your representatives by clicking here and entering your zip code. It takes about a minute, which isn't much time investment to ensure that your Senators and Congressperson don't sit on this tremendous opportunity to help families become more active.
David Sparrow is a senior editor at Parents.