MA Senator Introduces Bill to Address Public Health

Sen. Patrick O’Connor says gyms should have been essential from the beginning. He also tells us what he’s doing moving forward to ensure the fitness industry is part of the healthcare solution.

We know that health clubs, gyms, and studios are essential businesses that provide a safe, supportive environment for members and consumers to maintain physically active lifestyles. Our industry fully grasps how vital and beneficial movement and exercise are for overall health.

After the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic and unifying our efforts to tirelessly lobby and advocate for our industry, we’re noticing more positive trends. Lawmakers are taking action to ensure that fitness facilities and the overall health and fitness industry are included in solving the healthcare crisis and marked essential.

Notably, Senator Patrick O'Connor (R-MA-27) says, “After talking to more gyms and fitness clubs throughout the entire district, it became very clear health and fitness centers should have 100% been essential from the beginning.”

Last year, O’Connor introduced MA S.1509: An Act Relative To A Healthier, Stronger Massachusetts, a bill that aims to implement a public awareness campaign to promote healthy and active lifestyles.

He says, “It’s about assisting the people of the Commonwealth to get healthier. Why not have the government start a program to actually encourage individuals to join gyms and businesses in our state to offer membership plans to their employees?”

Gyms Give People a Fighting Chance to Beat COVID & Chronic Disease

O’Connor mentioned that the reason he initiated the bill was twofold.

The idea first came to fruition after initial discussions with his local gym owners and IHRSA members, Steve and Sally Goldman of Weymouth Club. The Goldman’s explained to him why closing fitness facilities was unreasonable, which prompted O’Connor to dig into the research.

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Steve and Sally Goldman have been growing and expanding Weymouth Club over the last three decades.

After discovering that many Americans were not healthy to begin with, and pre-existing health conditions increase a person’s risk of severe COVID, O’Connor was baffled.

“I thought it really defied logic that we were closing the same places that actually could give people the best fighting chance of beating this disease,” says O’Connor. “Gyms have been hit hard, yet they hold some of the greatest tools that we have in our toolkit to combat COVID-19, so why not raise awareness that people should be signing up to the gym?”

On top of improving COVID outcomes, physical activity can largely reduce the risk of chronic disease, which plagues the U.S. population. Six in ten Americans have at least one chronic disease with 40% having two or more. As the leading cause of death and disability, action needs to be taken to restore Americans’ health, quality of life, and longevity.

Lawmakers Should Unanimously Support Healthy Lifestyles

“Everyone should want to help their local gyms, whether you’re a democrat or republican or independent—left or right,” urges O’Connor. He adds that it was a bipartisan effort when the administration discussed reopening gyms, which is a positive sign when it comes to getting more lawmakers on board.

In summary, if passed, the bill would:

  1. Direct the Department of Public Health to conduct a public awareness campaign promoting subjects, including safe and responsible approaches to exercise in gyms and indoor exercise facilities; healthy habits to improve immune, respiratory, and other systems of the body to support virus resistance; and safe practices to counteract the physical and emotional impacts of quarantine and social distancing, etc.

  2. Direct the Department of Public Health to create a gym membership subsidy program. The program would allow public and private employers in the state to apply for full or partial reimbursement for the costs of offering their employees free gym memberships.

  3. Establish a special commission to study and recommend a recovery framework for survivors of COVID-19. Three members of said commission would be private gym owners, appointed by the governor.

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Weymouth Club offers active aging programming.

While the bill didn’t make it to the governor’s desk last year, the fight isn’t over. O’Connor is still working hard to get the bill included in the state budget this month.

“Legislation takes time,” says O’Connor. “That’s the biggest obstacle that any politician has when it comes to trying to pass good, effective public policy. It takes time to build a coalition and get people together.”

Healthier People Reduces Healthcare Spending

Chronic disease and mental health issues represent 90% of national healthcare expenditures annually. Furthermore, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) projects that chronic disease will cost the U.S. $42 trillion from 2016 to 2030.

As chronic disease and mental health are two crises that can be significantly improved through healthy living—being active, eating well, limiting alcohol consumption, and not smoking—lawmakers need to address the elephant in the room.

“We need to invest in our industries that really matter, and invest in our people as well. There’s definitely a point to be made that every dollar you spend on trying to make the people you represent healthier is a lot more money saved on the back end.”

Sen. Patrick O'Connor

Increasing physical activity levels could save $117 billion in annual healthcare costs—and, more importantly, save lives.

O’Connor notes that this bill is for the long-term and it’s about getting people back into spaces where they can be active and improve their overall health and well-being.

As of right now, the goal is to raise awareness and get momentum and support for the bill. The legislation will be filed in the Massachusetts state budget this month and in the Governor’s supplemental budget to address last year’s items that need more assistance.

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Sami Smith

Sami Smith is IHRSA's Senior Manager of Digital Communications, working to shape the organization's image on various digital platforms. On a typical day, she creates content, delivers impactful communications, and executes targeted marketing efforts to keep IHRSA at the forefront of the industry. Outside of the office, you can find her exploring new destinations, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.