Private sector is vital in National Health Insurance transition, says adviser
The private sector has a vital role to play in implementing National Health Insurance (NHI), an adviser to the Department of Health told delegates at the annual Hospital Association of SA (Hasa) conference in Cape Town on Tuesday.
"We must have a clear and firm commitment to partnerships with all stakeholders, including the private sector," said Vishal Brijlal, a technical adviser on secondment from the Clinton Health Access Initiative.
Interested parties would not "wake up on April 1 2026 and by some miracle expect everything will be in place. This is something we must recognise across society — politically, as well as by stakeholders," Brijlal said, referring to the sensitive issue of how the transition to universal healthcare will be made.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and his department have drawn fire from Cosatu for signalling a continued role for private healthcare players under NHI that the trade union federation wants to exclude.
Cosatu has also taken issue with the Department of Health’s plans to allow medical schemes to have a role in the transition to NHI: it wants a single fund that pays for all the services under NHI and is opposed to alternative financing mechanisms.
The private healthcare industry plays a strong role in the economy, with the three biggest private hospital groups contributing more than R5.5bn, or 1.3% of GDP in 2016, according to research presented to delegates by Hasa chairwoman Melanie da Costa.
For every R100 of private hospital services delivered, SA’s GDP grew R123, Da Costa said, citing preliminary findings from a study Hasa had commissioned from the consultancy Econex.
The study is based on data from the country’s three JSE-listed private hospital groups — Netcare, Mediclinic International and Life Healthcare — and excluded the effect of independent private hospitals and those belonging to the National Hospital Network.
Netcare and Mediclinic International welcomed the pragmatic approach flagged by Brijlal, with the CEOs of both companies saying private hospitals could reduce waiting times in public hospitals, play a greater role in training healthcare professionals, and help tackle extensive health issues the state had identified among pupils.
Discovery Health CEO Jonathan Broomberg said the lack of trust between the government and the private sector was hobbling progress.
"One of the critical priorities is for the leadership of [the] government and the private sector to try and find that trust again and identify … quick wins.
"The beneficiaries would be the patients who are deprived of healthcare. The ruling party would benefit through visible service delivery, and the private sector would benefit from enhanced credibility," he said.