Pay Me to Stay Healthy

An interesting story showed up recently on the web page of an Omaha TV news station, KETV. The story noted that there is a bill, now in the Ways and Means Committee, that would allow people to set aside money in their health savings accounts (HSAs) or flexible savings accounts (FSAs) to use toward fitness programs and fitness equipment.

While the piece did not mention the bill by name or number, I suspect that they were referring to the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Bill (H.R. 245) which was introduced in January by Gerald (Jerry) Weller, (R, IL) and would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to treat certain amounts paid for exercise equipment and physical fitness programs as amounts paid for medical care.

In other words we could use our HSA’s and FSAs as mechanisms to pay for health clubs and fitness equipment with pre-tax dollars just like we can use these funds to pay for IRS-approved medical expenses today.

It really is a novel idea that we would pay to help people stay healthy rather than to just spend money once they get sick.

It is no surprise that the International Health, Racquet & Sports club Association (IHRSA) a non-profit trade association representing health and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and suppliers worldwide has come out in support of the proposal. In an news release published in April of this year, the IHRSA said that H.R. 245 “takes a giant step toward a healthier America.”

The group went on to note that by allowing for exercise and physical fitness programs and certain exercise equipment to be paid for out of pre-tax dollars, PHIT will help provide the level of support many Americans need to be able to adopt healthier lifestyles and become more physically active.

The IHRSA press release cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that people who participate in moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity physical activity
on a regular basis lower their risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, non-insulin- dependent (type 2) diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and colon cancer. Yet, more than 50 percent of American adults don’t get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. And a startling 30 percent — more than 60 million people 20 years and older — are obese.

Its is certainly worth giving this idea a shot. Unfortunately, the bill has not gotten much traction in Congress (currently eight co-sponsors), nor has it received much publicity. No doubt it will die in the House Ways and Means Committee as did its 2006 predecessor H. R. 5479. What a shame.

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