The U.S. had the world’s highest obesity rates for both men and women last year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Can the PHIT Act use tax incentives to cut that number?
What the bill does
Examples could include a gym membership, fitness equipment like a treadmill, or signup costs to join a recreational sports league.
The tax write-offs cannot include such traditionally higher-income activities as golf, sailing, or horseback riding / equestrian.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill is a tax break for people like the middle-class who want to get healthier, a move which they say the government should encourage. And
“Physical activity is one of the best things individuals can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and it’s often an important first step for those looking to get on track with their fitness goals,” Senate lead sponsor Thune said in a press release.
“The PHIT Act reduces the financial burden that can be associated with certain fitness-related purchases, which would make it easier for Americans and their families to prioritize health and wellness — and hopefully save money on future doctor visits, too.”
The press release also projected that the government would save on health care expenditures if people are healthier.
What opponents say
Opponents say this wouldn’t actually encourage people to get healthier. Rather, it will primarily benefit the already well-off, even if its intentions sound admirable.
“Tax breaks like these disproportionately benefit high-income households who already make enough money to buy a gym membership. Hell, you can join Planet Fitness for $10 a month if you sign up at the right time,” writes_ Slate_business and economics writer Jordan Weissmann.
“Nobody is going to hit a treadmill because of this bill. Nobody.”
Votes and odds of passage
A previous version introduced in March 2017 was discarded in favor of a slightly-revised bill of the same name introduced in early July. (The main revision was halving the tax discount, following December’s reduction in most tax rates.)
The previous version had 135 bipartisan House cosponsors: 71 Democrats and 64 Republicans.That new version only attracted two cosponsors, one of each party — but nonetheless passed the House Ways and Means Committee by 28–7 a week later. It now moves to the full House.
The Senate version has 16 bipartisan cosponsors: nine Republicans and seven Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. It’s been referred to the Finance Committee.
The legislation was also introduced in the previous Congress, though it’s picked up more cosponsors this time around, particular in the House. The House version now has 135, versus 89 before. The Senate now has 16, versus 12 before. Neither version last time received a vote.