Washington, Dc — Last month, more than 140 health and fitness industry leaders from 26 states gathered in Washington, DC, to speak with their respective Congress members as part of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association's (IHRSA) Sixth Annual Legislative Summit, an effort to remove federal barriers to exercise and focus legislators' attention on the need to focus the health care system on prevention and wellness.
It was Robyn Kretschy's second time participating in the summit. The choice to come again was an easy one for Kretschy, the owner of Healthy Results, Chicago, a company that works with physicians to provide exercise services for individuals. The experience was an opportunity to learn about the legislative process, network with other fitness professionals, share her passion about legislative issues with her Congressmen and do her part to help make the industry more professional.
“The American way of being able to go into your Congressman's office and tell them how you think about a subject is pretty cool,” Kretschy says. “I feel very passionate about my industry, so to be able to go there in this collaborative effort is very fulfilling.”
During the two-day summit, fitness advocates attended 133 meetings with their members of Congress and encouraged support of two health promotion bills: ?The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (H.R. 245) and The Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R. 1748 and S. 1038).
The PHIT Act would allow people to pay for exercise and physical fitness programs, certain exercise equipment, and children's sports league fees with pre-tax dollars through their flexible spending account, medical savings account or health savings account. That means Americans could save 20 to 30 percent a year on their fitness-related costs because they wouldn't be paid for with taxable income, according to IHRSA.
The WHIP Act promotes wellness in the workforce by balancing current law and allowing for off-site fitness center memberships as a tax-free benefit for employees. Current law allows employees to use on-site fitness facilities free of any tax implications, but when a business needs to outsource this health benefit, employees who receive off-site fitness center subsidies are required to pay income tax on the benefits. Their employers bear the associated administrative costs of complying with IRS rules. The WHIP Act eliminates this tax on off-site fitness center subsidies, making it easier for all employers to offer exercise incentives for their workers.
Kretschy met with staff members for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). IHRSA informs attendees that although it's rare to meet with your actual Congress person, the staff person you meet with often is someone who handles health-related policy issues for the Congress person, Kretschy says, adding that these staff members have a lot of say with the senator or representative.
“What you learn is that the process of passing a bill takes years and years, so if you are in the industry to stay, then [attending the summit] is worth it,” she says.
According to a national public opinion poll commissioned by IHRSA, seven in 10 Americans say they'd encourage their member of Congress to pass PHIT, and three-quarters of Americans say they'd encourage passage of WHIP.