St. Jude Medical’s Marion Greene: ‘A liberal with an MBA!’

Marion Greene
Marion Greene

Marion Greene strikes me as a person who frequently surprises herself. Or at least appreciates the irony of life.

She’s worked at both the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and General Mills, a food manufacturer that often is the target of CSPI’s wrath. She’s a non-Quaker that once toiled for a Quaker lobbying group. And she’s a medical device veteran who argues for a single-payer healthcare system.

“A liberal with an MBA!” reads her campaign flier for Minnesota state representative.

And barring last-minute acts of God, Greene, the DFL-endorsed candidate from a heavily Democratic district in Minneapolis, likely will take her liberalism and MBA to St. Paul as the new occupant of former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s seat.

So what kind of lawmaker will Greene be? I’m not sure even Greene knows. “I’m not someone who has a natural group because I’m just like them,” Greene said.

A reimbursement expert at St. Jude Medical Inc., Greene’s background in health-care policy and medical devices could make her an important player in debates over health reform and ways to keep Minnesota’s edge in medical technology.

“I’m kind of excited to have that insider’s perspective,” she said.

Born in Connecticut to parents who worked in the U.S. Foreign Service, Greene grew up in countries like Pakistan, India, Brazil and Morocco.

After graduating from Swarthmore College with a degree in biology, and stints with CSPI and the Friends Committee for National Legislation, Greene ended up with the Clinton-Gore Presidential Reelection Campaign in 1996.

Having dabbled in the art of communicating a message to a broad audience, Greene studied marketing at the University of Texas in Austin where she received an MBA.

She moved to Minnesota and worked for Pillsbury Co. and then General Mills. But food soon bored her, so she pursued a career in medical devices with Guidant Corp. and now St. Jude Medical.

“You can have a cruddy day, but you can still get excited about a product that can save someone’s life,” Greene said.

An expert on winning reimbursement for medical devices, Greene says she generally supports the expansion of coverage under new federal health-care law.

But she has two big beefs: the law doesn’t really address cost, and it levies a $20 billion tax on the medical device industry to pay for it.

A liberal who strongly dislikes a federal tax on major corporations that subsidizes near-universal health care?

“Yeah, that’s unnatural for a bleeding-heart liberal,” she laughed.

So how does Uncle Sam pay for health care? “In some way that’s not arbitrary,” Greene said. “It feels like people are throwing darts at a wall.”

In a way, the medical device industry has itself to blame, she said. For years, Big Pharma cultivated strong relationships with Congress “but took false steps that alienated lawmakers.”

But Big Pharma was smart enough to cut a deal with the Obama administration in the early days of the debate, Greene said. Unfortunately for Medtronic and St. Jude, whatever acrimony lawmakers originally felt for drug companies they now feel for medical device companies, she said.

Greene hopes to land assignments on House committees that focus on biosciences and health policy. She’s especially interested in evaluating the implementation of Minnesota’s 2008 healthcare reform law and steering investments toward high tech research at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic.

But Greene says she is a realist. “The budget will come before everything else,” she said.

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