THE long-awaited inquiry into private healthcare pricing will begin in November, two months behind schedule, the Competition Commission said this week.

The inquiry was expected to begin this month and be completed in 18 and 24 months. "We’ve done most of the preparatory work, but we probably won’t meet the timeline," said deputy commissioner Trudi Makhaya.

The delays were caused by the amount of consultation the competition authority had to undertake following the publication of the draft terms of reference in May.

The commission wanted to ensure the inquiry properly complied with the Competition Amendment Act and addressed some of the concerns industry players had raised.

There have been concerns that the commission is underestimating the amount of work the inquiry will have to undertake and the industry has suggested that a proper study should take as much as five years.

Ms Makhaya acknowledged that the industry was complex, but said the inquiry would be focused. "We are scoping it so that we can stick to the 18 to 24-months period."

There are a number of pending regulations and legislative changes in the national health policy that depend on the outcome of the inquiry. These include Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s proposal that private hospitals be regulated on how much they can charge.

Humphrey Zokufa, MD of the Board of Healthcare Funders, warned at a recent conference in Cape Town that those who benefited from the current system might not voluntarily supply the information, which would require the inquiry to force them through lengthy court proceedings.

Hospital groups and specialists doctors would be the main focus of the inquiry.

According to the Council of Medical Schemes’ (CMS’s) 2012 annual report, released on Tuesday, private hospitals accounted for 36,7% of the R103bn medical schemes paid for healthcare. S pecialists accounted for 23% of the total sum, general practitioners less than 7.2%, medicine 15.8% and allied health professionals 7.7%, and other health-related services the balance.

Dumisani Bomela, CEO of the Hospital Association of SA, said the report was "unfortunate and misleading". The growth in the numbers of people on medical aid was in part behind the expenditure at private hospitals.

"M edical scheme membership grew 1.8% during the period under review in the CMS report," Mr Bomela said.

The regulator has blamed private hospital groups and specialists for higher prices.