Murphy unveils single-payer health plan in gubernatorial run

Health care may seem like a natural stomping ground for a former registered nurse turned state legislator, but sometimes the genesis of one's political career is much more intimate in scope.

Gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy stopped by Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd Thursday, July 12, to discuss her sweeping health care proposal -- a statewide single-payer plan. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy stopped by Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd Thursday, July 12, to discuss her sweeping health care proposal -- a statewide single-payer plan. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Health care may seem like a natural stomping ground for a former registered nurse turned state legislator, but sometimes the genesis of one's political career is much more intimate in scope.

State Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, visited Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd the morning of Thursday, July 12-another stop on her campaign for governor and another presentation of her proposal for a statewide single-payer health care plan. Local DFL politicos flanked her-from former state Rep. John Ward, to District 9A candidate Alex Hering, with a host of local activists and political organizers waiting in the wings.

Less than 15 years ago, Murphy didn't consider a career in politics a realistic proposition, she told the Dispatch during a phone interview.

She grew up in a civic-minded family, sure, but it wasn't until her own mother took on an activist role that a life in politics became a reality-in more ways than one. Plagued by a persistent cough during the election season, Murphy's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her simultaneous struggles with malignant cells and a tricky health care system had a profound effect on her daughter.

"I spent the next 11 months going back to Janesville (Wis.) and taking care of my mom. ... And she had really good health care coverage, but she had to fight to get the care she needed and that's actually why I ran for office," Murphy said. "At (my mother's funeral), her sister said, 'You should do something about that.' I decided after that to run for the House."


And so, Murphy followed her aunt's advice and took up the mantle of politics-championing, in particular, people's need for quality, affordable health care. What resulted was six terms in the state Legislature, with a stint as the House majority leader in 2013-14, and now a party-endorsed run for the state's highest executive office.

"I wasn't sure if I would be good at my job as a state representative," Murphy admitted. Now? "I love campaigning, because it's a very human and purposeful existence. ... I have seen us, over and over, in Minnesota take on tough challenges and master them."

Drawing upon a career dealing in policies on the matter-not to mention her hands-on experience as a nurse, health care administrator and instructor-Murphy said a single-payer model isn't only viable, it's painfully necessary. Evidenced, she said, by exorbitant health care costs, diminished quality of life for patients (both insured and uninsured), as well as avoidable fatalities, to say little of small town hospitals being squeezed out by corporatized giants like Marshfield Clinic or the Mayo Health Care Network.

By offering Minnesotans the option to buy into the publicly subsidized MinnesotaCare and purchase drugs directly from Canada-a la Vermont-Murphy said she intends to gradually blanket the populace in coverage over the course of four to eight years, or more if need be.

It's an initiative that would go beyond anything currently practiced by Minnesota or the other 49 states of the union-a sweeping proposal, she said, that if implemented would ultimately wean people off their dependence on private insurance and render markets like MNsure obsolete.

A cheesehead by birth, Murphy, 58, grew up in Janesville, Wis. She then acquired her degree in nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, after which she worked as a nurse in Marshfield, Wis., in 1984, then as a surgical nurse at the University of Minnesota Hospital in 1988. She went on to get a master's degree in organizational leadership at the St. Catherine's University in 2005-the same institution she currently works as a faculty instructor.

Murphy has two daughters, Bridgette and Anna, 27-year-old twins she shares with husband Joe Faust, who is a painter and small business owner.

The opioid epidemic


The number of Minnesotans who succumbed to drug overdoses rose from 129 to 637 between 2000 and 2016, according to a report filed this September by the Minnesota Department of Health. In 2016 alone, 395 deaths and more than 2,000 hospitalizations were directly tied to opioid abuse-though these statistics do not capture other indirect social impacts.

Murphy pointed to prior legislation passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives-namely, laws enabling more Minnesotans to access Naloxone (or other similar medications designed to counteract opiate overdoses), citing it as a "very, very important short-term solution."

Beyond that, Murphy expressed solidarity with prior DFL initiatives-notably, Gov. Mark Dayton's "penny a pill" legislation-which are based on a philosophy of governmental stewardship and holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its role in the opioid crisis.

"We have, in part, this crisis because the pharmaceutical industry has flooded the market with potent medications-I'm not sure that they're always real clear just how potent the medication is-but they made it readily available," Murphy said. "It's an issue where people become addicted taking a drug by prescription and people using it outside the prescription and getting addicted. It's affecting families across the state."

By having the pharmaceutical industry chip in for their responsibility in the crisis, Murphy said, these funds can then be diverted to improve substance abuse treatment services throughout the state-which represents, she noted, an area of need and isn't properly equipped to deal with the heavy influx of opioid abuse.

Going back to a common source of opioid addiction, Murphy said she would look to restructure the health care delivery system in some ways-particularly when it comes to the 15-minute increments to which doctor's visits are typically limited. This often forces doctors and specialists to make hurried and half-baked assessments of people with chronic pain or lingering issues, she said.

This sets the stage for inappropriate or poorly conceived decisions by physicians in terms of pain management, Murphy said, which then places an onus on powerful painkillers, including opioids.

Economics of Crow Wing County


Crow Wing County has experienced episodes of economic challenges as a result of shifting job markets and the loss of community cornerstones through the decades-for example, the departure of iron ore companies from the Cuyuna Range area during the '60s, or the closure of paper mills in Brainerd, with the Wausau mill shuttering in 2013.

Looking back at her childhood in Janesville-a childhood during which her father loomed large, she noted, as a worker at the General Motors plant there for years. Murphy said she witnessed the loss of stable, productive manufacturing centers firsthand, much like Brainerd and other cities within the lakes area have experienced in recent decades.

"In Minnesota I see communities rising up and finding their next chapter, over and over again," said Murphy, who characterized the loss of manufacturing and blue-collar industries as a problem national in scope. "There are key ingredients I think are important for a community in order to make that work-a strong school for kids, health care you can count on, infrastructure that works for you and a job."

In addition to that, Murphy also noted establishing broadband, affordable housing and accessible day care as being significant prerequisites for spurring economic growth. She said these public interests are being threatened by short-term thinking by politicians worried about the next election and powerful corporate interests behind them.

Tapping into local resources and building up on local ideas-then sparking them through state resources like the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and related programs-can foster economic growth, Murphy said, pointing to recent resurgences in Crosby-Ironton because of investments by local actors into mountain bike trails.

Among small businesses in Crow Wing County, 54 percent of employers have one to four employees, while 88.4 percent of employers have 19 or fewer on the payroll. Murphy said she favors small businesses established organically from inside the state, instead of attempting to woo outside commercial entities to come in.

Calling it a point of neglect by the state, Murphy also said she would look to reinvigorate initiatives to fund research in Minnesota. In addition, Murphy said she is in favor of increasing the minimum wage.

Educating a changing workforce


Currently, Minnesota is riding a 17-year low for unemployment in the state. However, there are some shifts on the horizon, which include industry automation, as well as changes in the workforce from a manufacturing/retail-heavy model to one in which health care- and service-based jobs pose as the healthiest areas of growth.

Reflecting national trends, many new jobs are going to require some form of post-secondary certification or degree, which may leave many Crow Wing County residents in the lurch going forward into the 2020s.

Murphy said creating a strong workforce means starting from the ground up-essentially restructuring K-12 education, implementing hands-on learning and curriculum tracks that prepare students for future careers before graduation. Then-through partnerships between colleges and future employers-their work aptitude is further cemented.

"Students are going to need some sort of post-secondary education to participate fully in this economy, and to contribute, and to support themselves and their families," said Murphy, who noted strong public school systems are an essential building block for future success.

Realistically, she noted, if a post-secondary certification is required for most jobs, then accessible and affordable post-secondary education is not a luxury, but a pressing necessity.

At Central Lakes College-an institution educating about 5,500-about 50 percent of the student population falls below the poverty line, 50 percent are first-generation students and 65 percent are in a precarious housing and food situation, according to Hara Charlier, president of CLC.

Those in demographics such as students of color, first-generation students and students in difficult financial situations are more likely to drop out or fail to complete their degrees, Charlier added.

Murphy said with communities of color or impoverished backgrounds in particular, there needs to be holistic approach-from birth until college, to ensure children have access to day care, meals, effective schools and later institutions that will narrow the opportunity gap.


The issue of housing

"I've made a commitment to continue the investment of $100 million every year that we bond to go into affordable housing," Murphy said. "We have been making substantial investments in housing at the state of Minnesota in our bonding bills, which we need to do, and we need to continue to work with local governments to ensure those bills meet the needs of people."

Murphy said the state needs to tackle daunting housing prices-whether it's property prices, or high rent-which exacerbate housing shortages across the state and only look to get worse as housing market values climb.

These shortages are affecting communities across the state-from the North Shore down to the Iowa border-which in turn hurts these communities, Murphy said. She added strong, durable investments are needed in this regard.

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