SECTION27 and TAC welcome the announcement by Minister Ebrahim Patel that the Competition Commission will launch a market inquiry into the private healthcare sector in September 2013.
About a year ago, the Commission announced its intention to conduct an inquiry into the private health care sector in terms of its general powers to promote and maintain competition in the market.   In light of the high cost of services in the private health sector, including the cost of some specialists, laboratory services and hospital services, this inquiry is crucial for consumers who use the private health system and who often face high out-of-pocket payments that are not covered by their medical aid schemes.  Such an inquiry will seek information about how prices are determined and consider the impact on competition in the market, uncovering the underlying causes of price distortions and the real drivers of medical inflation. 
Following a market inquiry, the Commission may initiate a complaint against individual players in the sector on the basis of the outcomes of the market inquiry. The Commission may also make recommendations for new policy, legislation or regulations, or amendments to the existing legal framework.  In other words, the Commission can make recommendations to the Department of Health about how to deal with the underlying causes of the escalating costs of health care and increase access to health care services in the private health sector.  These could include recommendation on what steps should be taken by the relevant authorities to address the identified problems; new or amended policies, legislation or regulations that should be introduced to remedy the identified problems; or what models of regulation the government should consider in order to regulate the pricing of health services in the private sector.
The Minister of Health has publicly addressed the need to reign in the cost of health care services in order to expand access to health care services.  In terms of section 27 of the Constitution, the state has a duty to take reasonable legislative and other measures to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to have access to health care services for everyone in South Africa, including in the private sector.
The market inquiry should be conducted in an open and transparent manner and should be open to the public, while having regard to potentially sensitive information held by the various stakeholders. Members of civil society that are concerned with the pricing of private health services should be able to engage with the Commission and should take the opportunity to play a meaningful role in finding solutions to the high cost of private health care in South Africa.
It is important to ensure that sufficient funds are made available to the Competition Commission to ensure that the investigation is thorough and so that the inquiry can accomplish its stated aims. We hope that the inquiry will be a useful source of information for understanding the private sector and will provide guidance to processes that follow, enabling enhanced access to healthcare.
For more information please contact Umunyana Rugege at 083 458 5677 or Mark Heywood at 083 634 8806.