AUGUSTA – A new Blue Ribbon Commission on Dirigo Health convened Wednesday and immediately waded into a discussion of the rules of agreement it would use in developing recommendations for the next Legislature.

The general consensus calls for aiming at a general consensus.

Chairwoman Sandra Featherman, the recently retired president of the University of New England in Biddeford, expressed a preference for flexibility, “recognizing that we may not have everybody on board” by the time the 20-member panel wraps up its work by the end of the year.

The panel’s membership includes representatives of the insurance industry, advocates for doctors and hospitals along with business and organized labor officials.

A principal task is to investigate long-term financing options for a public health care program that aims to insure Maine’s 130,000 uninsured, control health care costs and improve the quality of health care.

A key part of the Dirigo Health program is its subsidies for low-income individuals and business employees. Subsidies are funded in part from savings offset payments made by health insurance carriers.

Recently, a Superior Court judge rejected an appeal of last fall’s decision by Insurance Superintendent Alessandro Iuppa that Dirigo Health initiatives produced savings of $44 million in the program’s first year. But a further appeal to the law court looms.

On Monday, the Dirigo Health Agency board of directors put off action to assess a second year of savings offset payments that could be worth about $34 million.

Blue Ribbon panelists indicated at Wednesday’s organizational session that they would like to look at a broad range of possible financing alternatives, including those adopted or considered in other states.

“It will be a very distasteful list. Nevertheless, we should do it,” said Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association.

The commission has been directed to submit a report with recommendations to Gov. John Baldacci by Dec. 15.


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