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Health market inquiry delays final report for another seven months

The Competition Commission’s health market inquiry (HMI) has extended the deadline for publishing its final report to September 30, the latest in a series of delays to the five-year probe.

While the inquiry does not have the legal power to implement regulatory changes to the health sector, its final recommendations are important because they are likely to influence policies implemented by the department of health.

The delay is also likely to hold up work on the Medical Schemes Amendment Bill, which the health department has previously said will be revised and submitted to parliament only after the HMI’s final report has been published.

The HMI began in January 2014, and was tasked with establishing whether there were barriers to competition in the private healthcare sector and impediments to patient access. It originally aimed to publish its final report and recommendations by November 2016.

After a series of delays due to legal and technical challenges from stakeholders, it published its interim findings last July. But it hit a new stumbling block in January, after the Competition Commission ran short of funds and suspended its work until the new financial year, which begins on April 1. The Competition Commission’s budget constraints affected other inquiries too, including those into data costs and public transport.

“The recent interruption to the work of the inquiry, as well as the requirement for further extensive stakeholder engagements in respect of key aspects of the provisional findings and recommendations report necessitates a further amendment to the inquiry completion date,” it said in a notice published in the Government Gazette on Friday.

Once it has completed its outstanding work, which includes assessing stakeholder responses to its interim report, the inquiry panel will consider the extent to which it needs to revise its provisional findings and recommendations, it said. The inquiry had received 69 stakeholder responses to its provisional report by the end of 2018, which it has published online.

The five-member panel, headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, recommended in its interim report that the health department consider establishing a supply-side regulator to oversee pricing and quality issues in the private healthcare sector.

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