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What’s Wrong with the Ellsworth Amendment: Summary and Analysis

On Friday the House Rules Committee is expected to report out a rule governing debate on H.R. 3962, the House health care reform bill.  It is likely that this rule will include language called the “Ellsworth Amendment,” after Congressman Brad Ellsworth of Indiana.  This language is being touted as a pro-life amendment.  In reality, the Ellsworth Amendment does little more than tweak the pro-abortion provisions in the House bill.  Below is a list of the items in the Ellsworth Amendment, as well as brief commentary on their impact.

The Ellsworth Amendment:

  • Adds the phrase “or other federal funds” to Subtitle C (341)(c)(3), the provision that prohibits the use of affordability credits to pay directly for Hyde-prohibited abortions (Page 1).

[While supporters of the language will argue that this ensures that no federal dollars will pay for abortion, it does not alter the fact that, in a break from the status quo, affordability credits (government funds) will subsidize private insurance plans that include abortion coverage.]

  • Adds the phrase “or other Federal funds used by an Exchange-participating health benefits plan” to Section 303(e)(2), the provision that addresses the “segregation of funds” (which is supposed to ensure that only “private” dollars, not federal dollars, are used to pay for abortions) (Page 1).

[Again, this provision does not alter the fact that affordability credits will subsidize private insurance plans that include abortion coverage, a break from the status quo.]

  • Notes that the segregation of funds will be done in accordance with “generally accepted accounting requirements, circulars on funds management of the Office of Management and Budget, and guidance on accounting of the Government Accountability Office” (Page 1).

[Whatever accounting mechanisms are used, this does not change the fact that federal dollars will subsidize insurance plans that include abortion coverage.]

  • Adds the word “some” to Section 303(e)(1)(B), which requires that every area of the country have a pro-life insurance plan (Page 2).

[Adding “some” permits pro-life plans to choose among Hyde-permitted abortions they wish to cover, rather than taking an all or nothing approach.]

  • Adds a provision to Section 222(e)(1) that prohibits discrimination against insurance plans based on their decisions to cover or not cover abortions (Page 2)

[This “nondiscrimination” provision appears to make explicit what is implicit in the bill; however, what it fails to address is that the bill parts from the status quo by allowing government subsidies to go to private plans that include abortion coverage.]

  • Sets up a system whereby private contractors will handle the claims processing for the public option (and will therefore handle segregating the so-called “private” funds used for abortions) (Pages 2-4).

[The fact that the federal government will farm out the responsibility for subsidizing abortion coverage to independent contractors does not change the fact that the public option will cover abortion.]

The Stupak-Pitts Amendment continues to be the only language on the table in the House that will truly exclude abortion funding from health care reform.  However, it is expected that the Rules Committee will not allow a vote on the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.  It is critical that this language be included in any health care reform bill that passes out of either the House or the Senate.