The Affordable Care Act of course affected premiums and insurance purchasing. It guaranteed people with preexisting conditions could buy health coverage and allowed children to stay on parents' plans until age 26. But the roughly 2,000 page bill also included a host of other provisions that affect the health-related choices of nearly every American. So the outcome of the repeal and replace debate could affect more than you might think, depending on exactly how the GOP congressional majority pursues its goal to do away with Obamacare. Here's a sampling of sleeper provisions that could land on the cutting-room floor:
1. Calorie counts at restaurants and fast food chains. Feeling hungry? The law tries to give you more information about what that burger or muffin will cost you in terms of calories, part of an effort to combat the ongoing obesity epidemic. Under the ACA, most restaurants and fast food chains with at least 20 stores must post calorie counts of their menu items. Although there was some pushback, the rule had industry support, possibly because posting calories was seen as less onerous than such things as taxes on sugary foods or beverages. The final rule went into effect in December after a one-year delay. Does simply seeing that a particular muffin has more than 400 calories cause consumers to choose carrot sticks instead? Results are mixed. One large meta-analysis done before the law went into effect didn't show a significant reduction in calorie consumption, although the authors concluded that menu labeling is "a relatively low-cost education strategy that may lead consumers to purchase slightly fewer calories."
2. Workplace requirements for breast-feeding rooms. The law requires employers to provide women break time to express milk for up to a year after giving birth and provide someplace — other than a bathroom — to do so in private. In addition, most health plans must offer breastfeeding support and equipment, such as pumps, without a patient copayment.
3. Limits on surprise medical costs from hospital emergency room visits. If you find yourself in an emergency room, short on cash, uninsured or not sure if your insurance covers costs at that hospital, the law provides some limited assistance. If you are in a hospital that is not part of your insurer's network, the Affordable Care Act requires all health plans to charge consumers the same copayments or coinsurance for out-of-network emergency care as they do for hospitals within their networks. Still, the hospital could "balance bill" you for its costs — including ER care — that exceed what your insurer reimburses it. If it's a nonprofit hospital — and about 78 percent of all hospitals are — the law requires it to post online a written financial assistance policy, spelling out whether it offers free or discounted care and the eligibility requirements for such programs. While not prescribing any particular set of eligibility requirements, the law requires hospitals to charge lower rates to patients who are eligible for their financial assistance programs. That's compared with their gross charges, also known as chargemaster rates.
4. Nonprofit hospitals' community health assessments: The health law also requires nonprofit hospitals to justify the billions of dollars in tax exemptions they receive by demonstrating how they go about trying to improve the health of the community around them. Every three years, these hospitals have to perform a community needs assessment for the area the hospital serves. They also have to develop — and update annually — strategies to meet these needs. The hospitals then must provide documentation as part of their annual reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Failure to comply could leave them liable for a $50,000 penalty.
5. A woman's right to choose ... her ob/gyn. Most insurance plans must allow women to seek care from an obstetrician/gynecologist without having to get a referral from a primary care physician. While the majority of states already had such protections in place, those laws did not apply to self-insured plans, which are often offered by large employers. The health law extended the rules to all new plans. Proponents say direct access makes it easier for women to seek not only reproductive health care, but also related screenings for such things as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
6. Therapy coverage assurances. Advocates for children with autism and people with degenerative diseases argued that many insurance plans did not provide care their families needed. That's because insurers would cover rehabilitation to help people regain functions they had lost, such as walking again after a stroke, but not care needed to either gain functions patients never had, such as speech therapy for a child who never learned how to talk, or to maintain a patient's current level of function. The law requires plans to offer coverage for such treatments, dubbed habilitative care, as part of the essential health benefits in plans sold to individuals and small groups.