A new bill has been introduced that seeks to offer tax breaks to health-conscious Americans. But will this fitness bill clear the hurdles of Congress, or will the governing body’s indifference leave taxpayers feeling fit to be tied?
Except in rare circumstances (chiefly, under doctor’s specific orders), gym memberships are not tax-deductible — a crushing realization for many Americans who are doing their part to keep themselves fit and in essence keep the nation’s medical costs down. But a new bill advanced by the House Ways and Means Committee seeks to rectify that unhealthy attitude. Introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), H.R. 6312, also known as the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act, would allow taxpayers to benefit from being fit by providing them with a break on gym memberships and fitness classes.
As detailed in Forbes, “Under the bill, taxpayers who itemize their deductions could add qualified sports and fitness expenses to the definition of qualified medical expenses. Qualified sports and fitness expenses include membership at a fitness facility, participation or instruction in a program of physical exercise or physical activity (so, that Pilates lesson you've been meaning to take), or related safety equipment.”
While the bill would aid adults by providing tax breaks on health-related expenses through their flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs), Rep. Smith pointed out that it would even benefit those who are still too young to pay taxes. As he noted, “This bill will help our children get active by allowing people to use tax preferred accounts to cover the cost of their children’s school sports programs.”
Still, not every activity that involves getting off the couch will be covered. As Forbes explained, “But all sports programs are not created equal: The deduction would not be available for golf, hunting, sailing, or riding, which under the bill ‘shall not be treated as a physical exercise or physical activity.’ Additionally, qualified sports and fitness expenses would not include videos, books, or similar materials (so, no deduction for Sweatin' to the Oldies).”
While the PHIT Act sounds great in theory, don’t expect it to sail through Congress. While it cleared the House Ways and Means Committee by a 28-7 vote, it still has to receive approval from the entire House and then the Senate. As Forbes stated, “Even if the PHIT Act makes it through the House unscathed, it likely faces an uphill battle in the Senate.”
In other words, health-conscious taxpayers are advised not to hold their breaths — either while bench-pressing 225 pounds or waiting for Congress to sign off on a bill that seems fit for approval.