AUGUSTA – To get feedback from regular people – not hospital administrators, consumer lobbyists or other insiders – Gov. John Baldacci’s top health staff will meet with hundreds Sunday to talk about “tough choices” in health care.

The governor wants to hear the priorities of Maine people for improving health care in the state.

Saying he’s excited to learn what ordinary citizens have to say, Baldacci said their input “will help guide the future of health care in Maine,” as he moves ahead to make health care more affordable and accessible for all.

Participants will meet in two locations connected by video conferencing: the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, and Jeff’s Catering in Brewer. Among those representing the administration is Trish Riley, who heads the Governor’s Office on Health Policy and Finance.

The administration was not able to find a meeting place large enough in Lewiston, said Adam Thompson of the governor’s health policy office. A meeting place was secured for South Portland on Saturday, but when the event was moved to Sunday due to the storm, no place could be found, Thompson said.

The administration promises the Sunday meetings will be interactive. Participants will sit at small tables and discuss choices for reducing health care costs, improving quality of care, and increasing access.

Participants will vote on whether to:

• Offer discounts on insurance premiums for healthy living.

• Tax unhealthy habits and items like smoking and junk food.

• Require no-cost coverage for preventive services in all health insurance.

• Create a high risk pool.

• Cap how much providers and insurers can charge consumers.

• Reduce insurance mandates and regulations.

• Create statewide electronic medical records.

• Issue report cards on provider quality.

• Increase access by expanding MaineCare, require employers to contribute to coverage, or require all Mainers to have insurance coverage.

Throughout Sunday, participants will vote with personal electronic keypads. Results will be immediate and shown on large screens.

“We need to know, if you want lower health care costs, what you are willing to do to get there,” said Riley.

“These are hard decisions and they involve trade-offs. We need to know what Maine people are willing to do and what they want for health care in Maine.”

AmericaSpeaks will run Sunday’s meeting. AmericaSpeaks is a national group that brought together citizens of New York to develop a vision for the World Trade Center site after 9/11.

Not all are happy about Sunday’s forum, and the governor’s health care policies.

On Thursday, Republicans held a telephone press conference in which state Rep. Thomas Shields, R-Auburn, and Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, criticized the governor’s health policies.

After that, Barry Flynn of the Maine Republican Party issued a statement saying the state cannot afford Dirigo.

“At a time of fiscal crisis when severe cuts in Health and Human Services programs are being considered, and when the DirigoChoice program is struggling, the governor is content to give the appearance of action instead of taking responsibility to lead boldly by proposing immediate and real solutions to the dire budget and health care situation facing Maine.”

Maine cannot afford to not have Dirigo, and Maine must look out for the health care and costs for citizens, said Baldacci spokesman Lynn Kippax.

The DirigoChoice coverage plan is not in trouble, he said. “Just this week we’ve learned there are more and more individuals signing up. The governor believes in this effort, he believes in the health and dignity of Maine citizens.” As time goes by, more will enroll in Dirigo, “and more will realize the governor’s vision and thank him for it,” Kippax said.

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