Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE Competition Commission’s healthcare market inquiry has postponed the publication of its interim report, due for release last week, citing delays in obtaining key data from medical schemes and private hospitals.

The inquiry was established to probe the nature of the private healthcare market, and determine whether there were barriers to effective competition and patient access. It was due to publish its interim report on August 5, with a final report and recommendations due on December 15.

Last week, however, the inquiry sent a letter to stakeholders indicating it had problems obtaining data from various parties, saying this had held up its analysis and publication of its interim report.

The inquiry had been unable to secure all the information requested from stakeholders it needed to meet the August 5 deadline, despite using the new legal powers afforded by the amended Competition Act, said inquiry director Clint Oellermann. It has the power to summons people to testify or to provide documents. It can call for any information it deems relevant and it may initiate a complaint against a company based on information obtained.

Oellermann would not disclose which parties had to be compelled to provide data, nor would he be drawn on the implications for publication of the final report.

The inquiry wanted to be sure it had sufficient information to assess the market, as an analysis based on incomplete data was unlikely to stand up to scrutiny, he said. "We don’t want to make findings on incomplete information; one has to be thorough," he said on Monday. "We’re almost there…. We probably now have the biggest data set ever collected for the private healthcare sector (in SA)."

The inquiry requested claims data from medical schemes for the past five years, data from the Council for Medical Schemes dating back to 2000, and five years of data from private hospitals, he said.

Discovery Health, SA’s biggest medical scheme administrator, said it did not foresee any consequences in the delay.

Discovery Health CEO Jonathan Broomberg said it had satisfied the inquiry’s data requests and done so voluntarily.

The Hospital Association of SA, which represents private hospitals, said that the inquiry "should be given as much time and space as is needed for what must be a thorough consideration of a very complex set of issues".

A new publication date for the interim report — and a timeline for the release of a series of analysis reports — was expected to be announced by the five-member inquiry panel within a fortnight, said Oellermann.