SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The City of Shreveport’s Health Care Trust Fund Board voted Tuesday afternoon against proposed new health care plans and tiers for city employees.

Many initially believed the 4 to 3 vote meant the board had approved the plans, but with one board member abstaining and a vacant seat, the vote fell short of the five needed for a majority.

During a packed and sometimes contentious meeting, the board debated a tiered Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan that offers the lowest deductibles to city employees who use providers within the Oschner, LSU, and CHRISTUS health systems. A second tier adds Willis-Knighton providers at a higher deductible. The third tier covers out-of-network providers with the highest deductibles in the plan.

The plans include Group Medicare Advantage under Blue Cross Blue Shield, which Willis Knighton does not currently accept.

“Really, that decision and that proposal were made prior to us being hired as consultants. The decision was made to go with the Blue Cross plan that was presented and the tier there was based on Blue Cross’s contracts that they have with providers and their contracts with Willis-Knighton are not, as is, not a strong as the contract that they have with their tier one providers,” said Grady Morrison, Senior Vice President for insurance brokerage firm HUB International.

The Shreveport Police Officers Association formally came out against the proposed plan in an open letter Tuesday to Mayor Adrian Perkins, objecting to what it calls “the narrowing of the city’s healthcare system.”

The City of Shreveport has said it has used the general fund to pay for increased health care costs for the past decade to absorb increasing costs in order to avoid passing them on to employees. But Mayor Perkins says contributions have not kept pace with rising healthcare costs, so the city and its Healthcare Trust Fund Board had to find a way to manage a $13 million deficit.

The board previously voted unanimously to provide the Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana option for 2023, according to Perkins, because it cost $1.6 million less than Aetna’s offer. But SPOA President Michael Carter says the move will make going to providers outside of the Oschner LSU Health System more expensive and take control away from city employees.

“We think highly of the Oschner’s Hospital and their medical staff. We work daily with their services and service providers throughout the course of our professional and personal lives. Not one member of the SPOA has displayed any negative feelings about Ochsner’s providers. If a City Employee wants to use Ochsner’s for their family medical needs, we support them,” Carter said in the open letter.

“However, for the entire adult lives of Every City Employee and City Retiree, the Willis Knighton Network of major hospitals and medical providers has been a cornerstone of Shreveport and Bossier City. Why would any City Official, of any capacity, consider narrowing the Cities insurance to the point that a City Employee would have to pay more, to get local service? That is unacceptable to all of us at SPOA.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, the wife of a retired Shreveport firefighter asked everyone in the audience who use Willis Knighton healthcare providers to stand.

“These are the people that are being affected for you to save a million dollars,” Virginia Pinkley told the board. “These people are in treatment, and they would not be able to go to that doctor. They do not take this plan. These people on Medicare got these illnesses from the jobs they got on the fire department and police department.”

That is why Carter says the SPOA will “litigate any and all matters that would stop the Health Care Trust Fund board if it votes to increase costs when we use a local Doctor or Hospital.”

“You would think that the city would look for every advantage to try to retain. For example, we’re 128 down, so you’d think they would retain us somehow by enhancing benefits or at least maintaining them,” Carter told KTAL/KMSS.

“Either someone is so comfortable during an election year that they think the employees won’t speak out. Well, let me tell you, on behalf of the Shreveport Police Officer Association, we will speak out. We will speak loud, and we will speak clearly.”

Carter says they are planning a formal campaign against anyone who supports a plan to narrow health benefits.

The plan would have still needed the city council’s approval. Now, they’ll have to back to the drawing board and develop a new plan. Meetings are scheduled for next week to discuss a new plan.