After a flurry of criticism, Republican leaders in the Senate have invited Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to attend a meeting of a special working group on healthcare reform, reports the Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) initially assigned 13 men to their special working group tasked with hammering out the Senate’s version of a Republican bill to repeal and replace key parts of Obamacare. But he forgot to invite any of the five female Republicans in the Senate to participate.

“And it’s all male. And women’s health is a big part of this, and women are a majority of the population, and their health interests deserve to be contemplated in any form,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Andrea Mitchell on Meet the Press on Sunday.

Sen. Capito, whose state of West Virginia is one of 32 in the nation (including Washington DC) that have accepted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, wasn’t sure if she’d be joining the group permanently as a full-time member.

“We’re going to be talking about Medicaid; that’s the issue I’m concerned about,” Capito, represents one of the poorest states in America, told The Hill.

Capito told CNN back in March that “For me, I’ve been very forceful… repeatedly saying that the expansion of Medicaid is tremendously important to 184,000 West Virginians. That is something… that I am constantly asking about.” When asked if the expansion of Medicaid would be in the final version of the bill, Capito shot back, “It better be.’

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the longest-serving female GOP senator who is now in her twenty-first year, has voiced concerns about House GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in the past and was not invited to participate in the group.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) during happier times / Image credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Collins also told reporters that GOP women senators “are not afraid to make their voices heard,” pointing out her current efforts to come up with an alternative health care overhaul with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). She also said she’d be working with other Republican and Democratic senators, including Capito, on ways to fix Obamacare and revamp Medicaid without hurting poor Americans.

“That is an important issue to me because I don’t think that low-income women should be denied their choice of health care providers for family planning, cancer screenings, some well-women care,” Collins told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on This Week. “It’s not fair and it is a mistake to defund Planned Parenthood.”

There are currently 21 women in the US Senate, the highest number in American history—16 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a longtime member of the Senate health committee, was also skipped over by Sen. McConnell. Murkowski opposed the earlier version of the House’s bill to repeal and replace primarily because it would have eliminated Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which would hurt many of her constituents who live in rural areas.

“No, I don’t think it’s acceptable for 24 million people to lose coverage,” Murkowski said. The House bill “takes us backwards.”

During a live “town hall” that she held on Facebook on March 23, Murkowski said that she didn’t think funding for Planned Parenthood should “even be part of the debate,” telling supporters to “remind other lawmakers that women’s access to care” is critical and “Planned Parenthood plays a vital role.”

Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska is the sole female Republican senator who still supports a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Nebraska lawmakers have repeatedly rejected the idea of expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage for more low-income residents. According to her website, Senator Fischer voted to eliminate the failed ObamaCare law once and for all,” and was “an original cosponsor of Senator Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) American Liberty Restoration Act that would prohibit ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate.”

Even Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who portrayed herself as a rough and tough “conservative” and campaigned to repeal and replace Obamacare in 2014, is now urging her Senate colleagues to be more “deliberative” than Republican representatives in the House have been.

“We have to take this up and move cautiously,” she told constituents after an event in Cedar Rapids, a Democratic stronghold.

She has also emphasized the need for the Senate bill to cover pre-existing conditions and to allow children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance plan. Ernst is also “very concerned about the Medicaid states,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a big supporter of the junior senator. “Hers is one of them.”

Is it any wonder that Majority Leader McConnell tried to keep these women out of the room where it happens?

– Danielle Bizzarro

 

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