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Worrying healthcare sector trends

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Cape Times, 2 October 2019

A LENGTHY investigation into the private healthcare sector has confirmed worrying trends, including the dominance of three main hospital groups which, the investigation found, had restricted competition in the sector and increased costs. The Competition Commission’s five-year inquiry resulted in the release this week of a report by Justice Sandile Ngcobo. It offers interesting insight into the costly private healthcare sector and
shines a light on its non-competitive nature. The debate around cost-versus-quality is particularly relevant as the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill goes to public hearings this month. It would appear from the report that most people who enjoy private healthcare are uninformed about their medical choices, so are not empowered to make the best choices.

At the same time, they are opposed to the NHI because they do not understand it. Doctors in the private sector, the report found, are incentivised and unnecessarily refer patients to hospitals while the cost of medical care increases to the point of exploitation. All this while there is little scrutiny in quality of service because the supply side of the market is unregulated. Tied into this report is the rationale behind the NHI – to pool billions from the national health budget and the billions more spent on private healthcare in order to widen the access of decent healthcare to broader society. If this is the result we aspire to, the Competition Commission’s report must be taken seriously and the problems it has identified must be addressed if we are to achieve a state where public and private sector health facilities and medical practitioners compete on an equal footing.

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