Inquiry chairman judge Sandile Ngcobo. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Inquiry chairman judge Sandile Ngcobo. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

The Competition Commission’s long-running health market inquiry has delayed publishing its final report until March 29 2019, saying it needs more time to consider the extensive submissions it has received from stakeholders since it published its interim findings in July.

It had hoped to publish its final report on Friday.

The inquiry began in January 2014 and set out to investigate the barriers to effective competition in the private healthcare market and why annual healthcare inflation consistently outstrips consumer price inflation by several percentage points.

The original deadline for the release of its final report was November 2015, but it has been repeatedly postponed — partly due to legal challenges, but also because it has been at pains to show it is taking heed of concerns raised by stakeholders at every step of the way.

The inquiry has been conducted by a five-member panel chaired by retired justice Sandile Ngcobo.

The delay in the release of the final report will allow the inquiry sufficient time to review submissions “with the seriousness they deserve”, said panel member Sharon Fonn, professor of public health at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The inquiry received 47 written submissions from stakeholders in response to its provisional report by September 7, the deadline it set for responses. It granted a further 17 stakeholders an extension to this deadline, which along with requests for access to the underlying data and information it had considered in compiling its provisional report, meant that it pushed out the deadline for its long-awaited deadline by two months until November 30.

Formal notice of the latest deadline extension, to March 29, is expected to be published in the Government Gazette on Friday, said Fonn.

Section 27 deputy director Umunyana Rugege said it is unsurprising that the inquiry needs more time to consider comments, given the breadth and volume of submissions it had received.

“This is a crucial process for the country and due consideration of all stakeholders comments is welcomed. However, there have been many delays in the process since 2014 and we note the need to conclude the deliberations of the panel as expeditiously as possible in light of the speed of the processing of the NHI [National Health Insurance] Bill. As we have argued before, the two processes are linked and should influence each other in the interests of advancing access to healthcare in South Africa” she said.

The provisional report found a lack of competition in the medical scheme market and evidence of overservicing by providers and concluded that the private hospital sector is so highly concentrated it inhibits effective competition.

It recommended interventions aimed at increasing competition, improving consumer protection and ensuring greater efficiency in the market.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za