One on One features an interview with an influential member of the sports community concerning a specific topic. This month Tom Cove, President and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, discusses the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) pending in Congress.
By John Rezell, executive editor, SportsEvents Magazine
Every athlete faces crunch time sooner or later, that unique moment when your game plan aligns with circumstances to create the perfect storm. You must act swiftly and confidently to achieve success — to win the game.
Tom Cove, President and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, believes the sports community faces its own moment of truth as the clock winds down to the close of another session of Congress in late fall.
“We are, right at this moment for the next three months, in the make or break time,” Cove said. “Members of Congress aren’t against this, but we have to move them from ‘that sounds like a good idea’ to ‘yes, we should do this.’ We need to get to the point of saying this is important to people.”
Cove is referring to the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) pending in Congress that captures a mother lode of his focus these days. Through years of tireless work, the many active sports industry supporters of PHIT have rallied together more than 90 members of Congress as backers.
Originally introduced in 2006, PHIT is legislation that will allow individuals to be reimbursed for physical activity expenses using pre-tax dollars. It expands the definition of medical expenses to include qualified physical activities as a form of injury and illness prevention.
It would allow individuals to use contributions to existing pre-tax medical accounts (Flexible Spending Accounts) to pay for physical activity expenses. The contributions are limited to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for families annually and would not increase existing caps on contributions to pre-tax accounts.
According to phitamerica.org, expenses that would be covered include:
- Youth camp and physical activity fees
- Membership and dues in a health club
- Exercise/fitness classes or instruction (personal trainer)
- Sports league fees (adult and youth)
- Pay-to-play school sports fees
- Running/triathlon registration fees
Sports and fitness equipment used exclusively for participation in physical exercise/activities
For organizers of sporting events, that means participants could use their FSA medical accounts for league fees, camp fees, membership fees, and registration fees.
“We believe our sports organizations can say to their constituents — people going to events, paying registrations, joining an event — you know you are going to do this anyway, so why not save money doing it?” Cove said. “Don’t sell them on doing it, just sell on the benefits.”
Cove said for event organizers, it takes out the middle man of taxes.
“The buying power of the consumer goes up, so they can invest in more activity and more events,” Cove said. “We think the ability for event organizers to promote this is big.”
As an example, Cove points out that you can see a sign at the optometrist that says, “Use your FSA money to get new glasses.” There is no reason sport event organizers can’t make the same pitch to their participants.
“Our data suggests a very serious concern that the cost of sports has gone up, and it is a barrier,” Cove said. “(PHIT) is a direct solution to a current problem. Thirty years ago the cost of sports was not a barrier. Travel teams, registration, pay-to-play — back then you didn’t have to pay to play high school. All those expenses add up for a family.”
Any type of financial relief will allow more money for participation.
“We thought after the recession of 2008 sports participation would go up, but sports participation went down dramatically,” Cove said. “Money matters to sports in America today.”
For the first time in four attempts to get the PHIT Act voted on, it has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.
In the House, Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced the bill and along with Ron Kind (D-WI) are leading PHIT Act advocates.
In the Senate, Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Thune (R-SD), Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) introduced the bill and are the leaders.
Cove believes PHIT has its best chance of passing as this session draws to a close.
“We have more than 80 co-sponsors in the House,” Cove said. “We have more than 10 in the Senate. We have introduced it in previous legislative sessions. This is the first time we’ve had it in both houses with substantial support, and bipartisan support. We have been extremely cognizant of this being a bipartisan bill…. We believe we are well situated.”
In other words, the game plan has been put in place. Now it is time for players to execute the plan.
“We need to get to the point of saying to your representatives in Congress that this is important to people,” Cove said. “We don’t need hundreds of thousands to move this like some bills, because this is something everyone knows we need. Now is the time. We’ve done all the seed work.”
Contacting your representative is as simple as entering your zip code at phitamerica.org/Advocate.htm and following the prompts.
“It is legislation that is simple and powerful and game changing for our industry and the country — recognizing no one is against physical activity,” Cove said. “No one thinks physical activity is a bad thing, but we can’t find a way to get more people to do it. PHIT uses a financial incentive.”
The ultimate goal of Cove and SFIA is to get more people active and get more youth active.
“We measure 110 fitness activities,” Cove said. “Our research shows that 27 percent of Americans haven’t done an active thing in the last 12 months. That’s not right, that’s not the country we should live in. Sports should be the great equalizer. It should be available to every kid in every family.”
PHIT is one way to help ease the financial challenges of raising active kids and make it easy for adults to become more active, too.
“Inactivity is one of the easiest things to address on one level,” Cove said. “Becoming more active shouldn’t have to be that complicated. We think PHIT truly could be a dramatic game changer for our industry and the whole country.”
Cove understands the importance of crunch time. If Congress doesn’t move on PHIT before the end of its session, the process will have to begin again from scratch. A lot of legislation is passed at the end of a session, on both sides of the fall elections. Making your voices heard is critical.
“What are our chances?” Cove said. “It’s really hard to say. We are clearly in a different place that we have been in three previous sessions, this is the fourth.
“(PHIT’s) impact on families is dramatic. If you want your kids to be healthy and play sports, if you want them to try different things, if you have more than one kid, this is substantial savings. It is also big for millennials who want to be active. This is a broad, broad benefit base. We just need to speak up.”
There are other ways phitamerica.org urges you to help in addition to contacting your Representatives online:
- Call your Representatives — Let them know how important you feel the PHIT Act is to the future of our country.
- Write a personal letter to your representatives — This old fashion way is still the most effective.
- Engage in our Social Media campaign to spread the word on the PHIT Act.
- Network — Tell your friends to do the same.