International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association Applauds Introduction of Legislation Promoting Wellness in the Workforce

May 07, 2007, 01:00 ET from International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association

    BOSTON, May 7 /PRNewswire/ -- The International Health, Racquet &
 Sportsclub Association expressed today its ardent support for the Workforce
 Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R.1748 and S. 1038) -- legislation
 that promotes fitness in the workforce to help keep Americans healthy. This
 legislation fits into a larger movement building in Washington to remove
 federal barriers to exercise and to transform our current healthcare system
 from one that focuses on "sick" care to one that focuses on prevention and
     Specifically, the WHIP Act seeks to remove barriers to worker wellness
 by making fitness center memberships tax-free for employees when provided
 as an employee benefit. Current law requires workers to pay income tax on
 such wellness benefits.
     Introduced in April by Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Mark Udall
 (D-CO), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) in the House, and by
 Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) in the Senate, the WHIP
 Act already enjoys strong bi-partisan support. And the bills are expected
 to attract additional co-sponsors in the coming weeks-from both parties-as
 the nation looks forward to a number of health observances in May,
 including National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, National Women's
 Health Week (May 13 through May 19), and National Employee Health and
 Fitness Day (May 16).
     "Rising rates of obesity and Americans' sedentary lifestyles are
 resulting in escalating healthcare costs," said Wamp, founder and co-chair
 of the Congressional Fitness Caucus. "The WHIP Act would be an important
 step in reversing this health trend by promoting physical activity,
 combating obesity and preventing obesity-related diseases."
     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who
 participate in moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity physical activity
 on a regular basis lower their risk of coronary heart disease, stroke,
 non-insulin- dependent (type 2) diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and
 colon cancer. Yet, more than 50 percent of American adults don't get enough
 physical activity to provide health benefits. And a startling 30
 percent-more than 60 million people 20 years and older-are obese.
     "If Congress is serious about increasing wellness and winning the war
 against obesity, we need to provide greater access to the tools necessary
 to fight back-including more opportunities to engage in exercise and
 fitness activities," said Joe Moore, President and Chief Executive Officer
 of IHRSA.
     "The negative impact that sedentary lifestyles are having on America's
 fiscal and physical health crosses all party lines," Moore continued. "We
 applaud all Members of Congress who have shown the fortitude to take action
 on this crisis of physical inactivity that is eroding our health and
 vitality as a society."
     According to data from a recent survey commissioned by IHRSA, it
 appears that many Americans believe they would exercise more if they had
 the right kind of support. For example, more than half of Americans -- 57
 percent -- say they would exercise more often if their employer had
 programs to encourage exercise, such as providing an onsite facility or a
 health club membership. And more than two in five Americans say they would
 exercise more often if the expense was tax free.(1)
     "Employers are increasingly interested in improving the health status
 of their employees, as healthier employees are more productive, have lower
 absentee rates, and have lower health care claims," says Lisa Horn, Manager
 of Health Care at the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), a member
 of the Workplace Fitness Coalition -- a diverse group of 22 firms and
 organizations supporting the legislation. "The WHIP Act would enable
 employers to help employees focus on prevention and fitness, resulting in a
 healthier lifestyle and fewer health-related expenses."
     Many employers already have taken matters into their own hands by
 creating work environments that support prevention and healthy living.
 These companies believe that helping their employees become -- and stay --
 physically active not only helps the employee, but it also helps the
 company's bottom line.
     "I believe that giving people better access to opportunities to get and
 stay in shape means more productive employees, better health and
 attendance, plus lower health care cost increases," says Mahboud Zabetian,
 Chief Executive Officer of WildPackets, Inc., a developer and manufacturer
 of computer network solutions. Based in Walnut Creek, California,
 WildPackets employs roughly 100 people-and to help them maintain healthy
 lifestyles, the company offers its employees subsidized membership to a
 local health club.
     "Passage of the WHIP Act not only would help employees in their efforts
 to exercise," added Moore, "but it would be an important message for the
 government to send about the critical role that exercise plays in both
 preserving good health and in controlling the cost of healthcare."
     About the WHIP Act
     The WHIP Act allows for the balanced tax treatment for the cost of
 fitness center memberships as a benefit for all employees, whether the
 exercise facility is in-house or located off-site. The bill also affirms an
 employer's existing right to deduct the cost of subsidizing or providing
 fitness center benefits for its employees. This legislation excludes the
 wellness benefit from being considered income for employees, making
 employer contributions to the cost of fitness center fees exempt from an
 employee's income tax.
     Current tax law requires employees to pay income tax on any fitness
 center fringe benefit an employer might provide unless the fitness center
 is located at their work site. The employees of firms unable to provide a
 fitness center in-house face a discriminatory tax code that hinders their
 ability to benefit from fitness center subsidies. The WHIP Act corrects
 this inequity in the current tax code to the benefit of many smaller
 businesses and their employees.
     About IHRSA
     IHRSA is a not-for-profit trade association representing health and
 fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and suppliers worldwide.
 IHRSA is committed to taking a leadership role in advancing physical
 activity, which is critical to America's health and the battle against
 obesity and disease. IHRSA supports effective national initiatives to
 promote more active lifestyles for all Americans and is working to pass
 laws that will help affect societal changes toward a more fit America.
     (1) Fitness American Style III

SOURCE International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association