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The Latest: Female senators will be included in health group

Graphic shows process of health care overhaul bill moving through Congress; 3c x 4 inches; 146 mm x 101 mm;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Republican health care overhaul in Congress (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

Female senators will apparently be included in the Republicans’ all-male working group on health care after all.

GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia says Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear Tuesday that all were welcome to participate.

Says Capito: “We should have open meetings. I think they are opening up those meetings, I don’t even know if they had any closed meetings.”

Earlier McConnell was defensive when asked about the 13-member group, insisting that the real work on health care was being done by the entire 52-member Republican caucus. There are five female Republican senators. The working group in question was one of several looking at health care, but McConnell himself was a member along with other Senate leaders. And the lack of diversity had drawn criticism.

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3:10 p.m.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is defending a health care working group in the Senate that has no female members. And he has no plans to add any.

The Kentucky Republican disputed the importance of the 13-member working group comprised entirely of white men. Instead McConnell said Tuesday that the real work of writing health care legislation is being done by the entire Republican caucus at their regular lunch meetings.

He says the working group that counts “is all 52 of us.” He says “nobody is being excluded based on gender.”

The working group is one of several in the Senate on health care but includes McConnell himself as well as leaders on the issue, and Democrats have been attacking the lack of diversity. There are five Republican women in the Senate.

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2:06 p.m.

Senate Republicans trying to craft a health care overhaul have discussed how to ease provisions in the House-passed bill phasing out President Barack Obama’s expansion of Medicaid. On television talk shows and congressional town hall meetings, meanwhile, attention on the GOP drive to repeal Obama’s law showed no signs of fading.

Members of a working group appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met privately Tuesday and said their discussions centered on Medicaid, the health care program for poor and disabled people.

The House bill would end extra federal payments in 2020 that Obama’s law provides to states that have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more lower-income people. Senators from some of the 31 states that enlarged their programs want to prevent an abrupt cutoff of that money.

Participants said the group’s work had a long way to go. Portman suggested ways to ease the impact of the House’s Medicaid cuts, including using a multi-billion fund the House provided to help states provide financial assistance for insurance and gearing the bill’s tax credits more toward lower-income people.

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10 a.m.

Senate Democrats are asking Republican leaders to drop their effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law. If they do, they’re offering to help them “improve the health care system for all Americans.”

Democrats say they’d work with the GOP to reduce premium and drug costs, stabilize insurance markets and help small businesses provide health coverage.

The plea comes in a letter signed by all 46 Democratic senators and the two independents who usually side with them.

Democrats noted that the House-passed measure would take coverage from an estimated 24 million Americans, cuts Medicaid and pares back protections for people with pre-existing conditions and others.

With GOP senators starting work on their version, Democrats wrote that the House bill “has an uncertain path to the president’s desk.”

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