Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has reiterated his position that private healthcare is exorbitantly priced, supporting recent findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A WHO report compared SA’s private healthcare costs to those of 20 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The report concluded that SA’s hospital costs were high when measured against GDP per capita, with the driving forces being in-house hospitals and specialist fees.

Motsoaledi was speaking on the sidelines of a special session of the Competition Commission’s healthcare market inquiry in Pretoria.

"Those that are here not only attacked the facts but also the methodology of the report. As for me, I will challenge anyone who says that there is no inequality," the minister said.

The Department of Health had to ensure that access to healthcare as per section 27 of the Constitution was adhered to.

"We are not stopping anyone to provide healthcare. You just have to provide it within the rules," Motsoaledi said.

The special sitting in Pretoria was convened to give stakeholders an opportunity to give oral presentations in response to a WHO report.

The health market inquiry was established to determine why medical inflation has historically risen faster than consumer price inflation, and whether there are barriers to effective competition in the private healthcare sector.

Criticising the findings of the report was hospital group Mediclinic. It said while the report assumed that the interaction between medical aid schemes and private hospitals resulted in spillover to the rest of the healthcare system, the only spillover was in the area of skills.

Marine Erasmus, representing Mediclinic at the presentations, said the only spillover was the availability of specialists, and that this was due to supply and demand.

"The prices of specialists is determined by the shortage of specialists. This shortage is not a result of private hospital prices but the lack of training capacity."

The WHO report said that for a country with SA’s population, the spillover effects were a major concern where public sector hospitals would see an influx of patients referred to them by the private sector for TB treatment.

Some of the criticisms levelled against the report was that its recommendation that the healthcare market be regulated to control prices would distort competition in the private healthcare sector.

Anthony Norton, representing hospital group Netcare, said that the legal framework on how pricing was supposed to be regulated was clear and that the study had not considered it.

"It is clear that the report did not look into a detailed analysis of the cost component. They haven’t done the economic cost basis analysis, which is important in price regulation. It would be entirely irrational to regulate the prices when the real cost drivers are not known, and the report has not done that," said Norton.

He said that the study does an international cost comparison without any detailed cost analysis, which for the purposes of the health inquiry had no weight.

Motsoaledi said the special session was just a debate and the parties who presented their cases were entitled to do so. But he still stood by his argument that private health services were unaffordable for the majority of the population. If they were unaffordable, it was his job to make them affordable.