7 Little-Known Health Care Reform Gems

Claes Bell

A law as far-reaching as health care reform legislation with 2,407 pages and a $940 billion price tag is bound to contain programs and grants that are overlooked.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes millions in spending on a smorgasbord of programs designed to improve your health outside the doctor's office. With grants for everything from revamping school clinics, to designing sidewalks to encourage walking, health care reform could be a gold mine if you're looking to improve your family's health without spending your own money to do it.

Here are some provisions that may help.

Calorie labeling on menus

Eating at a restaurant can be a guessing game for those who want to watch their calorie intake. The act requires chain restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie content on their menus, allowing customers to make healthier decisions about what foods they choose.

The change won't affect smaller, mom-and-pop operations, so you'll have to keep guessing about how much of a hit your waistline will take from the cheeseburgers at your local diner.

Grants to help communities become healthier

Some communities just aren't set up for a healthy lifestyle. The health care reform law provides up to $50 million for Community Transformation Grants to promote access to healthy food and to encourage exercise.

The grants will be awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and could be used for projects such as creating healthy, school-lunch programs and building bike lanes and sidewalks.

Small business workplace wellness programs

Ever wish your office had a gym or you could get some kind of healthy food from the break room vending machine? The new law provides $200 million in grants to small businesses to create healthier work environments for employees, offer incentives for workers to eat better and to exercise, and even offer free tests and medical screenings at work.

Web-based health care management tools

Millions of Americans turn to the Web everyday for health advice that may or may not be accurate. The health care reform law calls for creation of a Web-based tool to give consumers access to up-to-date medical research, calculate their susceptibility to certain diseases and get personalized suggestions on how to stay healthy.

Break time for nursing mothers

More babies will enjoy the health benefits many attribute to nursing, thanks to a new requirement that employers provide reasonable break time and a place other than a bathroom for nursing mothers to use a breast pump.

And having time and privacy for this sometimes stressful activity probably won't hurt mom's mental health, either.

Disease prevention and education programs

When it comes to early diagnosis and treatment, some people just need a little knowledge or a gentle push to take positive steps toward better health.

Under the new law, national education programs and a media campaign armed with up to $500 million will promote better health practices at home, preventive care and awareness of life-threatening diseases such as breast cancer and diabetes.

School-based health centers get a boost

Remember going to the school nurse when all she could offer was a cot on which to rest and a phone to call your parents? The health care reform law includes $50 million to build and run clinics to give students free diagnoses, treatment for chronic medical conditions and mental health screenings.

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