‘Real possibility’ for MinnesotaCare public option, Murphy says

Photo by Deb Gau State Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, hears from a panel of southwest Minnesota residents, including UCAP case worker Samira Sheikh, during a Saturday round table event on health care issues.

MARSHALL — The message from speakers at a roundtable discussion in Marshall this weekend was loud and clear: southwest Minnesota residents are struggling with the high cost of health insurance and health care

“Without affordable health care, we often worry that we’ll have a medical emergency that we won’t be able to afford,” said Cindy VanDerPol, a farmer from Kerkhoven.

In response, Minnesota state Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she hoped legislation creating a public option for MinnesotaCare would help address some of the issues with lack of affordable health coverage.

With a unified state government, Murphy said, “The MinnesotaCare buy-in is a real possibility in this session.”

Murphy is the co-author of a Senate bill that would expand access to MinnesotaCare.

“It is moving in both bodies, both in the House and in the Senate, despite objections, and I feel like we’ve got a fighting chance to get this through both bodies and signed into law,” Murphy said.

Murphy also spoke about her vision for a state public health care commission, similar to the Public Utilities Commission.

A total of 45 people attended the roundtable event Saturday afternoon at the Marshall Area YMCA.

Former state Rep. Todd Lippert said Saturday’s round-table event grew out of meetings held as part of a rural organizing project by the multi-faith group ISAIAH Minnesota.

“The rural organizing project has the vision and purpose of a democracy and an economy that honors the dignity and worth of rural people,” Lippert said. Both access to health care and affordability were important issues being faced by people in southwest Minnesota, he said. “We know that health care prices are outrageous, and there are many in rural communities that are uninsured or underinsured.”

Speakers at Saturday’s event included southwest Minnesota teachers, health care providers, and people who work with immigrant communities in the region. Speakers said the high cost of health insurance and health care has a big impact on rural Minnesotans’ lives. Tyler Benschoter, a teacher from Fairmont, and Greg Erdmann, a teacher from Fulda, said faculty in their school districts were struggling with the high costs of health insurance premiums. Erdmann asked if it could be possible for rural Minnesota schools could band together to form a larger pool to help level out fluctuating costs, and maybe negotiate for a lower health insurance premium.

Access to health care can also be a struggle for southwest Minnesota residents, for a number of different reasons. Therapist Karen Dolan said rural Minnesota has a “huge shortage” of mental health care providers, although telehealth options can be a help. Area residents said language and cultural barriers also make it hard for immigrants to navigate the health care system and communicate with providers.

Samira Sheikh, a case worker with United Community Action Partnership, said the cost of health care was a barrier for many people.

“Preventative care is not in the picture. A lot of the little things and big things that could arise can be solved just by getting that checkup. And if that’s unaffordable, or if knowledge that getting that is important is out of the picture, then what happens is by the time we get the care it’s too late,” Sheikh said.

The high cost of health care and insurance also hits farmers and small business owners, VanDerPol said. VanDerPol said worries about affording health care became a reality for her family in 2021, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Thankfully, during that time we received quality care coverage with MinnesotaCare. If we didn’t have that coverage, I don’t know what we would have done,” she said.

Murphy said she thought the public option for MinnesotaCare would be a step in the right direction for affordable health care in Minnesota.

“I have long been a proponent of a MinnesotaCare buy-in, a public option for anybody,” Murphy said. “I also think we should create the means to contract directly with providers and get the health insurance companies out of the middle of that.”

“I think that the public option is a reality for us,” Murphy told area residents. “It, by itself, won’t solve all of what we’re describing, but it will create an entry for people into something that we have known for a long time.” Murphy said MinnesotaCare has been around since the 1990s, and is stable and delivered statewide.

“That’s why I think we have to do everything that we can do to push it through this session,” she said.

Murphy said she thought establishing a public health care commission in Minnesota could help with problems of accessing affordable health care.

“I think there’s something of real value in this idea,” she said. “If that much of our money, nearly 40% of the state’s budget, goes into health care, shouldn’t there be a public voice that’s got some view of the whole of it? I think so. And that would be the purpose of that commission.”

“It’s a big idea,” Murphy said. “It would need muscle like the Public Utilities Commission has muscle over energy. But we did that as a state because we say, ‘You know what, everybody’s got to have access to electricity. They need that, and we should make sure there’s a regulatory framework that makes it affordable for people.'”

Murphy said she thought creating a public health care commission would save the state money in the long run.

“There is so much health care bureaucracy across state government, and at all levels of government. But it is not very well organized, and often it can be at dual purposes,” Murphy said. “So again, I think having an entity that has as its purpose the goal of making sure people have access to care wherever they live, and this is the way that we’re going to achieve that, in the end I think would save us money.”

Murphy said the idea of a public health care commission would require more planning and feedback from Minnesotans. “I think you’ll see us doing some work over the spring and the summer and fall, and then we’ll come back to this. It is a new idea, and sometimes those take time to move through,” she said.


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