Feature Article - June 2008
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Health Clubs Champion Legislation Encouraging Exercise

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) recently led 140 health and fitness industry leaders to Washington, D.C., to take part in its Sixth Annual Legislative Summit—a coordinated effort to influence legislators and impress upon them the need for transformation in the nation's current approach to health care. Participants aimed to encourage the government to remove federal barriers to exercise—largely tax-based issues—and change the health care system's focus from "sick" care to a proactive approach to prevention and wellness.

Many view this health care transformation as a necessity to help cope with rising incidence of obesity and the resultant chronic illnesses that currently impact—or will impact—Americans. Many chronic illnesses, from heart disease and high blood pressure to type-2 diabetes and some types of cancer, can be impacted by getting more active and living more healthfully.

"The unchecked increase in America's waistline comes at a high price," said Joe Moore, IHRSA president and CEO, in a press release. "Not only does it compromise the health of individuals, but it increases the nation's health care costs and lowers our overall productivity. The government can play a lifesaving role by passing legislation that supports Americans' own personal efforts to preserve their health."

Two legislative efforts supported by fitness advocates include:

  • The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act: This legislation would enable people to pay for exercise and fitness programs, some exercise equipment and youth sports leagues with pre-tax dollars from their Flexible Spending Accounts, Medical Savings Accounts or Health Savings Accounts, enabling them to save as much as 20 percent to 30 percent annually.
  • The Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act: This legislation removes barriers to fitness for employees of companies that want to offer health club memberships as a benefit, but do not have on-site facilities by allowing for off-site fitness center memberships as a tax-free benefit. Current law allows employees to use on-site fitness facilities tax-free, but if a business needs to outsource this benefit, employees must pay income tax on the benefit. Passing this legislation would reduce the tax burden on those using off-site fitness center subsidies, encouraging more small and mid-sized companies, which often cannot afford or do not have space for on-site fitness centers, to offer this benefit to their workers.

A national public opinion poll commissioned by IHRSA indicated that seven in 10 Americans would encourage their representatives in Congress to pass PHIT, and three-quarters would encourage passage of WHIP.

For more information on these and other initiatives at IHRSA, visit www.ihrsa.org.