Angelina Jolie: I had Double Mastectomy
LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
US actress and humanitarian campaigner Angelina Jolie leaves Lancaster House in central London on April 11, 2013 after speaking during an announcement of funding to address conflict sexual violence on the sidelines of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting.
June 28, 2012 --
Today the Supreme Court upheld the 2010 health care law in a dramatic victory for President Barack Obama. The lead up to today's decision has prompted debate between opponents and supporters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act two years ago. Take a look at how we got to the health care system we have in place today.
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Prior to the 20th century, nothing even close to what could be called a health care system existed in the United States. Although the Civil War had led to some medical breakthroughs in terms of surgical techniques and pain management, medical knowledge, techniques and treatment availability at the time left little hope that patients would actually recover from severe ailments. As NPR's Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson point out, medical treatments may have been downright medieval at the time, consisting of potions. But at least it was cheap. "In 1900, the average American spent $5 a year on health care ($100 in today's money)," they note in their report.
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In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was the first presidential candidate to get behind the idea of a national health insurance plan. Roosevelt ultimately didn't win election that year. Proponents of government-provided health care tried to press the issue through state initiatives, only to see their efforts fail in 16 states. Roosevelt's plan may have certainly been ahead of its time, particularly since there weren't that many services that doctors could actually provide patients during that era.
At the same time, however, developments within the medical community changed the face of the industry. The horrors of World War I led to advances in the areas of wound care, sanitation, pain management and more, according to an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Hospitals in the United States began to widely adopt the practice of using antiseptics to sanitize their facilities, preventing the possibility of medical personnel or patients becoming exposed to infection. That decade also saw the introduction of the first employer group insurance contracts (though not specifically for health insurance) as well as the first physician service and industrial health plans.
In 1928, Alexander Fleming made one of the most important discoveries in the history of medicine: penicillin, a life-saving drug used to treat countless millions. It would be decades, however, before penicillin would be mass-produced. Fleming's discovery was the signature achievement in an era that saw medical treatment become more effective, and, as a result, expensive. The Great Depression also fueled concerns about affordability of medical treatment as millions of Americans suddenly found themselves out of work. In 1929, Baylor Hospital provided the first group health insurance plan in the United States through an agreement with Dallas-area teachers. The plan was the forerunner of Blue Cross. The effort wasn't just meant to be in the best interests of patients, but also the hospitals. Patient facilities saw more empty beds as fewer patients during the Great Depression could afford treatment without participating in these collective prepaid health insurance plans.
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As part of his push to create a social safety net for Americans during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt advocated the passage of national health insurance. Roosevelt pushed ahead with efforts to pass Social Security first, a bill which intentionally omitted any mention of medical care to ensure its passage. Harry Truman attempted to carry on Roosevelt's legacy in 1945 by calling on Congress to create such a program. His efforts failed, partly due to criticism by the American Medical Association (AMA), who called the plan "socialized medicine." In this photo taken in 1937, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt examines a chart of enrollment of health care insurance plans.
Like its predecessor, World War II would lead to new medical advancements, including the widespread adoption of antibiotics and the use of ultrasound. The war would also have a similar effect in terms of the spread of employer-sponsored health plans. Because the nation was in a state of emergency and had a legally mandated wage freeze as a result, employers had to attract workers to assist the war effort by providing them with benefits, including health insurance. Tax laws passed between 1943 and 1945 also gave breaks to employers who provided insurance to their employees, which gave businesses all the more incentive to offer coverage. Following the war, employer-sponsored health insurance became common. In 1951, around 77 million Americans had some kind of coverage, according to an insurance industry trade group. That era also saw one of the most celebrated medical achievements in history: Jonas Salk's polio vaccine.
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Although health insurance was widely available to employed Americans in the mid-20th century, the unemployed and the elderly were often excluded from these plans. President John F. Kennedy campaigned on the issue of insuring these groups. President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded where Kennedy left off, securing the passage of a bill through Congress creating Medicare and Medicaid. At the bill-signing ceremony, shown here, Johnson presented former president Truman with the nation's first Medicare card. Within the medical industry itself, an increasing number of doctors began specializing in certain fields of medicine rather than acting as general physicians. By 1960, more than two-thirds of doctors reported themselves as full-time specialists, rather than general practitioners.
Starting with Richard Nixon in 1970, presidents have offered successive plans for covering the nation's uninsured, but they have have stalled for different reasons. In 1974, Nixon put forward a plan to cover all Americans through private insurance, only to have the Watergate scandal force him out of office. An economic crisis prevented Jimmy Carter from pushing forward with a national health plan. Congress late in Reagan's second term attempted to expand Medicare, only to have the law repealed the following year. Bill Clinton had a 1,300-page health care reform bill that was never even taken up for a vote in Congress. Since Nixon's presidency, health care costs have continued to rise, often outpacing inflation. This increase is due to a number of factors, including the increased use of new medical technologies for diagnosis and treatment. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama was intended to cover the 30 million Americans who live without health insurance, according to the bill's authors. It has been the most far-reaching piece of health care legislation since Johnson's signed the legislation creating the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs.
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Angelina Jolie revealed Tuesday that she has undergone a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of contracting breast cancer.
Jolie said she was speaking out to encourage other women with a family history of cancer -- her mother died of it age 56 -- to seek out information from doctors and make informed choices about their bodies.
She said she managed to keep the issue quiet and keep working. "But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience," she said.
The 37-year-old American actress wrote in an opinion piece entitled "My Medical Choice" in The New York Times that she had chosen the procedure because she carries a faulty gene that increases her risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
Jolie, one of Hollywood's best-known faces and the partner of actor Brad Pitt, said that because of this gene, known as BRCA1, her doctors estimated she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.
"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy," she wrote.
"I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex," Jolie wrote.
She said that on April 27 she completed the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved.
Jolie said her chances of developing breast cancer are now down to five percent.
Jolie and Pitt have three adopted and three biological children.
"I can tell my children they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," Jolie said.
Jolie described a two-stage surgical process, the second of which is an operation that can take up to eight hours as the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place.
"You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life," Jolie wrote.
Jolie said Pitt has been a huge source of support -- "we managed to find moments to laugh together," she said -- and she has only small scars after the ordeal, with nothing alarming for her children to see.
"On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
Jolie, one of the world's highest paid performers, said the cost of getting tested for BRCA1 and another faulty gene, called BRCA2, is more than $3,000 in the United States and that this "remains an obstacle for many women."
She said she hopes women living under the threat of cancer will be able to get tested.
"Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of," Jolie wrote.