Patients will pay the price of the latest delayin the Competition Commission’s Health Market Inquiry (HMI), which has been suspended until the start of the new financial year in April due to budget constraints. Business Day reports that this is according to lobby group Section27 who was commenting on the news that the commission has cut back on investigations and slowed the pace of other market inquiries, including those into public transport and data costs, in a bid to avoid over-spending.
The HMI was established to probe the constraints to competition in the private healthcare industry and determine the barriers to patient access. The report says it got underway in 2014, and originally aimed to publish its final report in November 2015, but it has been serially delayed due to a host of factors ranging from litigation to problems in getting the stakeholder data that informed its interim findings. It was due to publish its final report by the end of March, but that deadline will now not be met.
Section27 has now questioned whether the government had the political will to see the HMI through to the end. “If the HMI was a priority for government, the money would have been found. That the money hasn’t been found at such a crucial stage in the process is deeply concerning. The delay is particularly worrisome in the light of the considerable investment so far,” Section27 executive director Umunyana Rugege is quoted in the report as saying. “The cost of finalising the work of the inquiry is likely to be a fraction of the potential cost-savings from appropriate private healthcare sector reforms,” she said.
The HMI’s final report is expected to provide important evidence and analysis to guide health reforms for the private sector and, the report says, Section27 warned its delay will have a knock-on effect on reforms that have the potential to make quality healthcare more affordable. It called on the commission to prioritise the HMI and publish its final report “as a matter of urgency”.
The commission’s spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said that it remains committed to the inquiry. “(The suspension) does not undermine (the inquiry’s) work. We did this inquiry because we are very concerned about the issues around the provision of private healthcare. (But) we need to make sure we stick to the resources provided by the fiscus,” the report quotes him as saying.
The delay in publishing the inquiry’s final report will have an immediate effect on work to reform the medical schemes industry. The report says the Health Department’s deputy-director general for National Health Insurance (NHI) Anban Pillay has previously said that the Medical Schemes Amendment Bill will only be finalised once the final HMI report has been released.Business Day report