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A Convenient Truth: It’s Time for a Wellness Revolution in America…and the PHIT Act Can Be the First Victory

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We are voluntarily killing ourselves. The 2017 CDC report is out, and in two of the last three years, life expectancy in the US has gone down. You have to go back a hundred years and factor in World War I and a flu pandemic to find such a downturn (Washington Post, 11/29/18). But this isn’t about a war or a pandemic, it’s about a culture of illness, addiction and apathy. Just look at the CDC’s disturbing trend lines for opioid deaths, drug addiction, suicides, mental health issues, obesity, and diabetes. 

Wellness in America has hit an iceberg – and bailing water with thimbles is not going to save us.  It’s time for a full-blown cultural revolution around how we think about, talk about and invest in well-being – as individuals, companies, and on Capitol Hill. It’s time for a “Wellness Revolution.”

We have witnessed a meteoric rise over the last two decades in boutique fitness businesses like yoga, Pilates, barre, group training, boxing, CrossFit and MMA.  Access to healthy foods, supplements and resources is now common place in urban areas and many mid-markets. Complementary and alternative healing methodologies like acupuncture, Ayurveda, and therapeutic massage is widely utilized, and general awareness around wellness is at a peak.

So while it’s true that some quadrants of society struggle – over one-third of Americans eat fast food every day and half don’t meet minimum activity guidelines – it’s simultaneously true that many people are passionately committed to fueling and leading a Wellness Revolution. We have the leaders, the resources, and the solutions to this national health crisis.

I recently traveled to Capitol Hill to advocate for the PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act, and my stark realization was that, in America, if you own a gun, sell (prescription) drugs, or smoke cigarettes you’ve got representation in Washington, but if you’d like to make America well, you’re pretty much on your own.

The PHIT Act would enable working Americans to use pre-tax (HSA/FSA) dollars for fitness activities and equipment, also known as preventative healthcare. It makes little sense that you can currently use pre-tax HSA/FSA dollars to pay for prescription drugs and doctor’s visits once you’re sick, but you can’t use those same pre-tax dollars to prevent yourself from getting sick.  It’s reactive and not proactive healthcare.

The PHIT Act is not the be-all end-all, but it’s a start. And it’s something we can collectively take action on – now. And it must be now, as the bi-partisan bill passed the House, but currently lingers in the Senate, which has the power to pass PHIT in December 2018 and send us into the New Year with a glimmer of healthy hope. However, if the Senate ignores PHIT, it’s back to the drawing board in 2019 with the new Congress.

We met with a half dozen senate offices on our trip to Capitol Hill, and while they seemed mostly interested in PHIT’s potential, we left Washington with the uneasy feeling that there just isn’t enough urgency in the Senate to make it a priority. There seems to me a monumental disconnect between the urgent need to reverse the alarming health trends the CDC warns us about, and the political will to take even a small step forward.  Why is this not a priority when it damn well should be, and when it’s good for everyone?

PHIT is good for Working-Class Individuals.  Squeezed by rising insurance premiums and healthcare costs, saving a few hundred bucks could mean the difference between hitting the local fitness business… or not.

PHIT is good for families.  Lower and middle-income workers could use pre-tax dollars to get their kids in sports activities and push back on alarming childhood obesity rates.

PHIT is good for employers.  A physically active workforce is more engaged, more productive, sick less and absent less.  PHIT would make popular local boutique fitness options more viable.

PHIT is good for small businesses.  PHIT’s pre-tax dollars would filter out to the tens of thousands of local fitness businesses in the U.S. who employee hundreds of thousands of wellness service providers and help keep millions of Americans healthy.

Bottom line. Working-class Americans using pre-tax dollars for fitness activities is good for everyone… except anyone that profits from Americans being sick, obese, and unhealthy.

It’s time for a Wellness Revolution, where we as communities, companies and citizens collectively commit to building a Culture of Wellness in America. There’s a lot more to be said and done on this topic, but the PHIT Act is at least a starting place.  Let’s get it passed – NOW – and move on to the next big win.

Authored by Blake Beltram, co-founder of MINDBODY and host of the Wellness Revolutionaries podcast

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