Sen. Thune takes another swing at PHIT Act to incentivize physical activity

"We can empower people to make healthy choices, get active, and hopefully prevent the onset of costly chronic conditions," Thune said about the proposal, now backed by some three-dozen lawmakers.

Sen. John Thune, left, talks with Brian Goertz, plant manager of DakPak, during a tour of the 144,000-square-foot facility on Monday in Woonsocket.
Sam Fosness / Republic

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A bipartisan piece of legislation backed by South Dakota Sen. John Thune could help more Americans invest in their health.

The Personal Health Investment Today, or PHIT Act, would allow taxpayers to use funds in their pre-tax health savings account and flexible savings account — two avenues for families to save for out-of-pocket health care costs — to invest in a gym membership, purchase home fitness equipment or pay for fees associated with youth sports.

From these funding sources, the PHIT Act would allow up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for families to cover these sorts of expenses.

Some expenses that would not be covered include private clubs owned and operated by members or clubs with golf, hunting, sailing or riding facilities.

In a release announcing the proposed legislation in March, Thune pointed out that helping incentivize healthy habits like exercise could lead to health care savings down the line.


“By giving Americans greater flexibility with their HSAs and FSAs, we can empower people to make healthy choices, get active, and hopefully prevent the onset of costly chronic conditions,” said Thune, who often references his personal experience with sports in weekly columns and floor speeches.

Thune and supporters on both sides of the aisle also mention the barriers that income can place on access to fitness.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics in 2020 showed that families with higher incomes are more likely to have children who participate in youth sports: only one-third of children in families under the federal poverty line participated in sports over the past twelve months; for families above 400% of the poverty line, participation increased to 70%.

A fact-sheet prepared by the National Athletic Trainers Association in support of the legislation points to a 2010 study showing high cost was the most common barrier to parents enrolling their children in youth sports, with 37% of parents mentioning expenses.

The industry group further argues that investing in youth sports is the most cost-effective way to break the “cycle of inactivity” that can lead to high health care costs down the road.

“Joining a local gym or signing your kids up for little league are great ways for families to get healthy and connect with their community, but those fees can be really expensive,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote in the March release with Thune. “It’s a smart investment that would help more Americans prioritize their health, lead active lives, and connect with others.”

The idea of the PHIT Act is not new. In 2018, the legislation passed the Committee on Ways and Means in the House of Representatives but was never considered on the floor.

The legislation was reintroduced on both sides of the aisle in 2021 but did not receive a committee hearing.


According to Tom Cove, the president and CEO of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, an industry group supporting the PHIT Act, the recent memory of the pandemic — both its impact on sports participation and its effect on people with comorbidities like obesity — could be an important reason for the bill’s breakthrough this session.

“The pandemic gave us a new appreciation for the physical and mental health benefits of activity,” he said. “The PHIT Act is a common-sense solution to allow more Americans to participate in sports, exercise and recreate in the outdoors by making such activities more affordable and accessible.”

So far, the legislation has received 12 sponsors in the Senate and 26 in the House.

Moving forward, the legislation has yet to have a hearing date set for its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Finance.

“We have to think about what our priorities are, especially considering the threats we face around the world,” South Dakota U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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