A panel of health care experts and activists appointed by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the D.C. Council met for the first time yesterday, beginning a six-month process designed to find ways for the city to tackle a range of health care problems.

Yesterday's meeting of the 11-member Health Care System Development Commission was an orientation; the real work will begin as soon as Congress passes the city's budget--which includes funding for the panel--and President Clinton signs the measure into law.

The commission is charged with recommending ways to bring primary health care to 80,000 uninsured residents, insulate D.C. hospitals from pressures that have pushed several into financial distress and tackle other difficult health care issues.

Based on the panel's schedule and comments from his staff, Williams wants the commission to recommend that the city expand Medicaid to cover thousands of D.C. residents who aren't insured--and do it in time for inclusion in the 2001 budget.

When the mayor made a similar proposal in the spring, the council and the hospital industry killed it because of fears that the patient load would increase faster than government reimbursements.

Williams, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) are on the panel, along with five members appointed by Williams.

They are Marsha Lillie-Blanton, a health policy expert and vice president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; Martis James Davis, a public relations executive and former senior official at the Health and Human Services Department and New York City's public hospital system; Gilbert Hahn Jr., a lawyer who has been chairman of the D.C. Council and held top jobs at Washington Hospital Center and D.C. General Hospital; Andrew Schamess, medical director of La Clinica del Pueblo and chairman of the D.C. Non-Profit Clinic Consortium; and Loretta Tate, president of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization.

The D.C. Council appointed three members: Sister Carol Keehan, chief executive of Providence Hospital and former chairman of the D.C. Hospital Association; Larry Gage, a lawyer and longtime president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems; and Henry J. Werronen, a health care consultant and former managed-care executive.