Gov. Dayton, Sen. Hann continue to spar over federal health grants

David Hann
State Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, is at odds with Gov. Mark Dayton over using federal grant money to implement the federal health care law in Minnesota. Hann questioned Dayton's authority to unilaterally use up to $28 million in grants.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

The rancor grows between Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP state Sen. David Hann over the use of federal health grants.

Grant money is a key point of conflict, as the governor and the health and human services committee chair spar over how the state should implement the federal health care overhaul.

Last week, Dayton said Hann's decision to hold up other, unrelated grants will severely harm thousands of Minnesota children with cancer.

Hann put the governor's accusation under a microscope in a hearing Tuesday.

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It was as if two hearings were going on simultaneously in the same room.

One hearing involved routine testimony about use of federal grant money coming to Minnesota. The other was the next skirmish in an increasingly bitter battle over control of federal grant funds.

Dayton and Hann are at odds over using federal grant money to implement the federal health care law in Minnesota. Hann questioned Dayton's authority to unilaterally use up to $28 million in grants.

Hann, a strong opponent of President Barack Obama's health care law, took action to hold up unrelated federal grant money earlier this month.

In response, the governor said Hann was guilty of "unconscionable behavior." During Tuesday's hearing, Hann said the attack was personal.

"And then (Dayton) said that I will severely harm 5,000 Minnesota children with cancer and their families... because I followed the law and asked for a review of this grant," Hann said.

Hann grilled Ed Ehlingher, Minnesota health commissioner, about the statement related to one $800,000 grant for a pediatric cancer surveillance system.

"I want to ask you, commissioner, is that description in the governor's letter of what we've done, accurate?"

The statement was justified, Ehlingher said.

"The activities through state health department provides at a popluation level... really try to do the surveillance, the monitoring and improving all of the care that goes on. if we do not improve the care for children with pediatric cancer...yes, children will be hurt." Ehlingher said.

Hann pressed further.

"Let me ask you directly," Hann said. "The governor is saying that my actions will, not maybe, not possibly, but will severely harm 5,000 children and I'm just asking you to validate that statement, yes or no?"

Ehlinger did not answer yes or no. He said there was never an opportunity to explain the grant in question during an earlier meeting between the two.

"We went through two grants — one related to primary care providers, and one related to immunizations where we gave you the details," Ehlinger said. "At that point, you said we would not talk about any more grants, so we were not able to go through each of these grants."

Dayton said any delay in accepting the grants could jeopardize the funds, because the federal government could instead redirect them to another state. But administration officials said any delay is likely to be short.

The key question is how the escalating war of words between the governor and a powerful lawmaker will affect the health care system at a time when the state is under pressure to implement the federal health care law.