WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry has offered his share of criticism of the health care law.
Omaha's Republican congressman has voted repeatedly with other House GOP members to repeal or defund what some prefer to call the Affordable Care Act, others Obamacare.
But when the Douglas County Health Department was seeking grant money under the health care law, Terry penned an Aug. 18, 2011, letter supporting the application.
The department's application was successful and landed a five-year, $2.5 million Community Transformation Grant.
The Nation, a liberal political magazine, obtained Terry's letter and similar ones written by other GOP lawmakers through the Freedom of Information Act and recently posted them online.
While the magazine characterized such support for home-state grant applications as hypocritical, a Terry spokesman defended it.
“Congressman Terry believes that it's unfortunate Obamacare even exists, but he takes seriously his responsibility to represent the people of Nebraska's 2nd District,” Larry Farnsworth said in a statement.
“This is an issue of fairness, and while Congressman Terry doesn't agree with this law, it's his job to make sure the law works for the 2nd District,” he said.
Still, the law's supporters say, those Republican letters offer powerful testimonials that even opponents recognize some of the measure's benefits.
In his letter, Terry pointed to a few of the public health challenges confronting the metro area.
“I am concerned that the Omaha area health rating is considerably low, ranking 142nd out of 182 metropolitan cities,” Terry wrote.
Terry cited University of Nebraska Medical Center findings that five major factors contributed to the low ranking: above-average shares of smokers, binge drinkers and overweight individuals, and below-average levels of activity and fruit and vegetable consumption.
“This is why the Douglas County Health Department is requesting an Implementation Grant to execute a Community Transformation Plan with the overarching goal to reduce deaths and disability in the community due to chronic disease by at least 5 percent through prevention of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, obesity and health disparities while improving health in all groups,” Terry wrote.
Mary Balluff, chief of community health and nutrition services at the Douglas County Health Department, described the grant as a “linchpin” in the department's broader public health mission because it connects to many other projects.
“It has been very beneficial in helping us to work within our community and work with organizations within our community to make substantial change,” she said.
She said letters of support from home-state lawmakers are “reassuring” to those applying for grant funding, and recalled a letter in support of the grant application written by then-Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Nelson was a key vote in getting the health care law passed.
Balluff said she wasn't aware of anyone else in the state's congressional delegation having written a similar letter.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., hasn't sent any letters supporting health care law grants since joining the Senate early this year, a spokesman said.
An aide to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said he couldn't find any record of such letters.
Rick VanMeter, spokesman for Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said Smith typically does not write such letters.
An aide to Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said he found no record of the state's senior senator sending a letter for grant funding under the health care law, which went into effect in March 2010 and whose provisions continue to be phased in until 2020.
In an interview, Johanns suggested it would be odd for him to write such a letter.
“We're out there advocating to repeal it every week,” Johanns said of the law.