Minnesota DFLers running for governor are focusing on health care plans this week, seeking to help address rising medical and prescription drug costs as two of the three leading candidates get behind a single-payer approach.

While Republicans have pushed for the dissolution of MNsure and a shift to health care policies where customers pick and choose what's covered, DFL candidates Erin Murphy and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz have lined up behind single-payer health care. That would have the state take a greater role in providing more expansive coverage and decreasing drug costs by tapping into the state's purchasing power.

"I can't recall a time when I have seen or heard the kind of stories that I'm hearing from the people of Minnesota about the high cost of care, about the shrunken networks, about being locked in and out of provider access, about the real fear of financial loss," Murphy, a state representative from St. Paul, said at a news conference Tuesday about her health care plan. "It is time for us to propose and enact a solution that is a game-changer, a system-changer, for the state of Minnesota."

The other DFL candidate, Attorney General Lori Swanson, rolled out a health care proposal a day earlier. Her plan would allow Minnesotans to use the state's bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, modeled after similar programs in Oregon and Washington.

Murphy, a registered nurse who was endorsed Tuesday by the National Nurses United union, said she would take the same approach and open up MinnesotaCare, the subsidized insurance program for low-income people, to anyone who wants to buy in. Murphy said she would also direct the state to continue to contract directly with health care providers to take HMOs out of the process and save the state money.

Murphy, who left the bedside practice of nursing 26 years ago, stood next to James Holt Jr., of Richfield, who tearfully recalled how his diabetic 26-year-old son, Alec Smith, died last year after aging out of his parents' health insurance coverage and struggling to pay for insurance and insulin. It would have cost 80 percent of his income, Holt said.

"My son died a very painful death all because of the price of insulin was not affordable," Holt said. "Health care is a human right, and we need to make sure that our rights are protected."

Walz said in a statement that he also supports a longer-term shift to a single-payer system but a more immediate start of MinnesotaCare buy-in. "The rising cost of health care is crushing Minnesota families," Walz said in a statement. "We must take meaningful action to ensure every Minnesotan has access to high-quality, affordable health coverage."

Health care has emerged as a top issue in the governor's race — and a contentious one.

Gina Countryman, executive director of the self-described nonpartisan center-right Minnesota Action Network, said in a written statement responding to Murphy's plan: "Single payer health care is just another empty promise that will lead to massive tax increases to pay for a government program that reduces choice for Minnesotans."