While it certainly appears that the newly appointed panel to the first ever market inquiry into the South African private healthcare sector consists of a number of members who have a strong medical background, there is a concern, however, that this is significantly skewed in favour of those who have more of a public healthcare background.
This brings into question the degree to which the inquiry will be focused more on the question of accessibility of healthcare to all citizens (An aspect for which South African government has the main responsibility) on the one hand, and the perceived inefficiencies within the private healthcare sector where members/patients pay a premium for access to the latter.
The only economist on the panel is, interestingly, not from South Africa which may bring to question his ability to effectively understand the South African private healthcare sector, how it has evolved in the last two decades, particularly given the changes observed in regulations governing the different levels of the value chain.
A clear concern will be how well the panel will appreciate any commercial arguments, which would undoubtedly be brought forward by the industry, particularly providers. At the end of the day these are private entities which rely on investors who seek certain levels of return, often irrespective of where those returns come from.
The Competition Commission should be able to provide some assistance, however, given the level of attrition experienced at the Commission in the last 18 months the quality of those resources remains an issue.
A second aspect is the apparent exclusion of an assessment of the public sector. Since government is ultimately tasked with providing healthcare services to the vast majority of unemployed in South Africa, these would be the very same majority which could never afford private healthcare today. Ignoring the public sector is tantamount to ignoring the real issue.
The panel comprises of former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, Professor Sharon Fonn, Dr Ntuthuko Bhengu, Dr Lungiswa Nkonki and Cornelis van Gent. A brief overview of panel members is as follows:
- Former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo served as the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court from 2009 to 2011.
- Professor Sharon Fonn is a medical doctor and registered public health specialist and she is currently the acting dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand.
- Dr Nthuthuko Bhengu holds an MBChB and his most recent executive appointments have been with Metropolitan Health, Clinix Health Group and Biotech Laboratories.
- Dr. Lungiswa Nkonki holds a PhD in health economics and is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch.
- Cornelis van Gent is an economist with experience in competition economics, economic regulation and competition in healthcare markets.