Angelina Jolie published an update this week on her medical condition. In 2013, she revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy after learning that she carried a genetic mutation that significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. (A Field Clinic post on that revelation is available by clicking here.)

The mutation is in the BRCA 1 gene, which can also heighten the chance of developing ovarian cancer, a disease that had claimed the life of her mother. So during the past two years, she has weighed her options for reducing that risk.

In an op-ed in Tuesday's New York Times, Jolie reported on the difficult choices she has confronted and the preventive treatments she has chosen to receive. Last week, she underwent surgery to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries, a procedure known as laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

Jolie made her public pronouncements, both in 2013 and this week, to encourage other women who may be at risk to take control of their health care and to get the information they need to make tough choices. That is certainly valuable advice.

But her experience teaches another lesson – the value of health insurance. It's hard to choose a treatment that you have no means to pay for.

Obamacare guarantees that no American can be denied health coverage because of a preexisting medical condition. A diagnosis of cancer – or any other disease –no longer stands in the way of obtaining insurance to cover the cost of treating it.

Of course, for those without access to other forms of coverage, the options available on the Obamacare insurance exchanges are often less than ideal. Many policies have high deductibles and narrow networks of providers.

But procedures like those that Angelina Jolie underwent can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And treatments for cancer once it has developed can cost hundreds of thousands. That is enough to bankrupt many patients, if they had to pay the cost on their own. Insurance, at least, removes the threat of financial ruin as a cost of maintaining your health.

And that is a crucial first step toward true patient empowerment.


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