Healing Healthcare: Agents Of Change

When it comes to major national policy issues, change does not come swiftly, easily or cheaply.

Healthcare reform is one of the most complicated and expensive issues hanging over the nation, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Wall Street to Main Street. And though few are happy with the current system, reforming it -- nevermind fixing it -- will take leadership, compromise and consensus.

Reform also requires advocates and thinkers. As part of our special series "Healing Heathcare", Bertha Coombssat down for in-depth interviews with two agents of change, one from the corporate world, the other influencial in the public sector.

Stephen Sanger, General Mills

General Mills Chairman and CEO Stephen W. Sanger sees the situation surrounding the uninsured as untenable.

He's part of two business groups calling for universal reform. Better Health Care Together and the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform.

Sanger says a system that "leaves that many people out isn't sustainable long term."

Any successful reform, says Sanger, will need an "emphasis on market based reform" that empowers the user as well as physicians. "I think if you don't find ways to reduce cost, it's going to be difficult to extend coverage to all the uninsured."

"There are a lot of efforts going on in states that we'll benefit from." says Sanger, referring to Massachusetts, which recently passed a law mandating health care for all residents, and California, which is now considering similar legislation.

Jonathan Gruber, MIT

Jonathan Gruber is a professor of economics at MIT, who helped come up with the state of Massachusetts' Universal Health model, which was passed in 2006 and is now being implemented. He's since written a plan for the the Brookings Institution about taking the Massachusetts model national.

"I think Massachusetts was the critical first step," says Gruber. He calls that state's plan "a three-year experiment or sales job to show people we can make universal health coverage work in a way which works for all of the citizens."

Gruber is also involved in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's push for universal care in California.

"I think what happens at the state level depends a lot on what happens in California," says Gruber. "I think if California fails, that will slow state reform down until 2009. If CA succeeds, I think will be pretty hard for states to resist doing similar things."

Of course, any successful effort will require the support of big business, which currently provides 60% of the nation's healthcare.

"I think what it takes is to first of all make them feel like it's a win-win proposition, to not make them feel like we're going to rip up everything you know and start over," says Gruber. "But rather, 'Look we have some problems, we need to fix them, you'll benefit from us fixing them.'"