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If health and fitness are a priority in your life, you know it's not exactly a cheap habit. Even if you're not splurging on the latest superfoods, green juices, high-tech sneaks, or fancy leggings, you're probably still shelling out cash for a monthly gym membership, personal training, or group classes—which means you might feel that workout burn in your wallet more than in your muscles.
In fact, the average active individual spends $900 per year on sports and fitness, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). That's why SFIA is working to pass the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act—a piece of legislation that would help curb the costs associated with being physically active to encourage more people to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
While it's not a law quite yet, there's good news: The act was just passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means (the top congressional tax committee) by a vote of 28 to 6, and will now be part of a larger package of health savings account (HSA) reforms that the full House of Representatives will vote on later this month.
"We are very encouraged by the progress the PHIT Act made today in Congress; this is the closest PHIT has come to becoming law since its inception," said Tom Cove, SFIA President and CEO, in a press release. "While the positive vote today has left us very hopeful that it will pass this year, we still have work to do. SFIA remains committed to leading the effort to increase activity in America."
The PHIT Act would allow you to use up to $1,000 (or $2,000 for families) of pre-tax dollars for physical activity expenses like gym memberships, fitness equipment, sports and activity fees, exercise classes, and personal training. If you've ever heard of a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA), this is basically the same thing—but dedicated specifically to funding your fit-girl needs. (Here's what you need to know about FSAs, HSAs, and other ways to slash your health care bills.) And the country is here for it: Two-thirds of Americans and 77 percent of millennials support the idea, according to a recent poll by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Only 10 percent are opposed.
It's important to note that this isn't a $1K free-for-all of spending money to snag some new Nikes and Lululemon leggings. The money you spend would still be coming out of your paycheck. It just wouldn't be taxed liked the rest of your income. Considering the average U.S. income is $51,000 and is subject to 25 percent income tax, if your family spent all $2,000 of that PHIT money, it could save you about $500 per year, according to Bill Sells, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at SFIA.
While many companies have wellness programs that offer financial incentives or reimbursements for staying healthy and fit, it's not consistent across the board. The PHIT Act would be an optional bonus, just as with those FSA and HSA dollars you set aside, when you are signing up for or changing your health care plan—whether that's through your employer or purchased individually. (Having your day job cover your gym expenses is just one way to hack your HR benefits for serious health perks.) But the perks of this act go beyond saving you some cash:
"The PHIT Act will incentivize millions of Americans to be active, which will greatly decrease our nation's health care costs and improve the health and quality of life for so many people," says Cove. "More than 30 percent of all Americans live sedentary lifestyles, so something must be done today to change that."
Living a healthy, active lifestyle has actually been proven to reduce other health care costs, meaning you—and the health care company—pay less in the long run. For example, people diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease who exercised at recommended levels logged average health care costs more than $2,500 lower than those who didn't meet exercise guidelines, according to a study released in 2016 by the American Heart Association. Even among the healthiest people in the study (read: no heart disease and, at most, one cardiovascular risk factor), those who exercised regularly had yearly medical costs averaging about $500 lower than those who didn't exercise.
Before you get too excited about the cash money headed your way, remember that this bill hasn't actually become law yet. The PHIT Act (which, BTW, is supported equally by Democrats and Republicans) made it past the House Ways and Means Committee, but now it has to be approved by the House as part of a larger HSA reform package. Though the current political climate is pretty polarized, PHIT boasts some strong bipartisan support and has good momentum for passage, according to SFIA. The hard part isn't necessarily getting PHIT passed, but getting a whole health care reform package through. (That doesn't mean, however, that all the possible health care changes coming are good news.)
"We are confident that PHIT will be part of any health care reform package—the bigger challenge will be putting together a package that can gain 60 votes in the Senate," says Sells.
In the meantime, you can show your support by spreading the word, advocating on social media, and contacting your state reps the good old-fashioned way. (And, of course, you can cut fitness costs by killing these at-home no-equipment workouts and scoring bargain workout clothes.)