5 major milestones in U.S. health care history

7.4.19

In celebration of America’s birthday, the Chronic Disease Coalition looked at the evolution of health care in the United States. From developing the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to in-vitro fertilization, to creating the first artificial heart, the United States has been an innovative leader in health care. Learn more about five major milestones and developments in our nation’s history.

1. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)

In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act to help address the nation’s organ donation shortage and improve the matching process. This legislation established the first Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which would contract with a nonprofit known as United Network for Organ Sharing later that year.

Despite establishment of this system, it wasn’t until 1954 that the United States saw the first successful human organ transplant: a kidney. Advances in post-transplant treatment eventually led to more successful transplants.

2. Genetically targeted cancer therapies

Targeted treatment, or precision medicine, was first introduced in 2001 when the FDA approved Gleevec. This cancer therapy for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia was tailored to the individual’s unique genome or DNA. In doing so, this treatment method targets a specific genetic mutation and addresses the root cause of the disease.

3. Vaccines for children

federally funded program launched in 1994, Vaccines for Children (VCF) provides free vaccines to children in low-income families. Without this program, thousands of children would not have access to vaccinations.

A child is eligible for this program if they are younger than 19 years old and are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or underinsured. VCF ensures that children can access the recommended vaccinations on time, protecting this young population from preventable diseases.

4. Medicare prescription drug benefit

President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Modernization Act into law on Dec. 8, 2003. At the time, this was viewed as one of the most complex pieces of legislation, and it provided foundation for the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D) that is still used today. As a result of this legislation, Medicare Part D was privatized, allowing Medicare to contract with private companies to provide prescription drugs to seniors.

5. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, otherwise known as HIPAA, was passed by Congress in 1996. With the passage of this legislation, a patient’s medical information was protected from being disclosed without the patient’s consent. While HIPAA also outlines strict administrative and electronic guidelines, it has become best known for the privacy of health information. This aspect of the law has helped protect patients from insurance discrimination, making it easier for people to acquire and maintain their health insurance.