News & Politics

What's Wrong With Making Gym Memberships Tax-Deductible?

[Getty Images]

Congress passes some pretty dumb laws all the time with the intention of saving people from themselves in terms of health and personal habits. However, tax-deductible fitness expenses are nothing like former Mayor Bloomberg’s soda tax.

Yet a writer at Slate thinks the PHIT Act, which just passed through committee, is a bad idea — because fitness expenses are too bourgeois or something. Jordan Weissman writes:

Consider the PHIT Act, a piece of legislation now sweating its way through Capitol Hill that would create a tax break for gym memberships, yoga classes, athletic equipment and all manner of other “qualified sports and fitness expenses.” It would let individuals use up to $500 a year from their pre-tax health-savings and flexible spending accounts — which were originally designed to ease the price of actual medical care — on the cost of getting in shape. The bill is expected to eat up $3.5 billion and is backed by a sprawling assortment of apparel makers, retailers, and other fitness industry players. Nike has been a particularly active lobbyist on the bill. This week, the legislation passed the House Ways and Means Committee by a vote of 28 to 7.

While the involvement of corporate interests is problematic, it does look like the bill doesn’t actually cover fitness apparel. However, that’s not enough for Weissman to support it. “But set the shoes aside for now. The bill will still offer discounts on all manner of bougie fitness pursuits.”

“Bougie.”

Oh, how I hate that word. It’s nothing more than an updated Marxist slam designed to make items like gym memberships look like something only the most privileged classes get to enjoy.

Go to a gym and look around: the simple fact is that most gym members are middle-class folks. I know, I see them each and every day. They’re not doctors and lawyers. If gym memberships were so exclusive, I sure wouldn’t have one. This bill doesn’t help the wealthy at all — it’s limited to a $500 write-off. This is cash that absolutely might encourage healthy habits in working class individuals who can’t justify the expense of a gym membership at the moment.

Even better, gym memberships will no longer be seen as the expenditure to cut when cash gets tight.

a huge percentage of healthcare expenditures are for diseases that are completely or partially preventable through behavior. Hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and many other conditions are all symptoms not of the frailty of humanity, but of our wealth as a nation. They’re all tied to obesity and de-conditioned bodies from having the luxury of sedentary lifestyles.

Banning 20 oz. sodas is stupid, and a decrease in liberty. But this is a positive incentive that is not a nanny state restriction. Of all the proposals out there to deal with obesity, this one is far from the worst.

Honestly, Congress is great at absurdity. However, this time they’re not wasting everyone’s time or overstepping their powers.