The HMI was established in 2013 to probe the constraints to competition in the private healthcare industry and determine the barriers to patient access. Picture: SOWETAN-SUNDAY WORLD
The HMI was established in 2013 to probe the constraints to competition in the private healthcare industry and determine the barriers to patient access. Picture: SOWETAN-SUNDAY WORLD

The Competition Commission’s Health Market Inquiry (HMI), which has been suspended due to budget constraints, has assured stakeholders that it is committed to finishing its work.

Its final report is keenly awaited by the government and the private sector, as it is expected to contain recommendations that will guide future health reforms.

The HMI was established in 2013 to probe the constraints to competition in the private healthcare industry and determine the barriers to patient access. It began work in January 2014, with a two-year deadline for publishing its final report.

However, it has been repeatedly delayed, thanks to legal challenges and difficulties in obtaining data from stakeholders. It published its interim findings last July and was due to publish its final report by the end of March, but that deadline will not be met.

The work of the inquiry was suspended in mid-January for the remainder of the financial year, after the commission ran short of funds. The commission said at the time that it was intent on remaining within its budget. It had also cut back on investigations and slowed the pace of other market inquiries, including those into data costs and public transport.

In a notice published on the commison’s website on Tuesday, it said HMI would resume at the start of the next financial year, which begins on April 1. A revised administrative timetable and a new publication date for its final report will be announced before the end of the month, it said.

The inquiry said that former director Clint Oellermann had resigned and Mapato Ramokgopa had been appointed acting inquiry director.

Public interest law group Section 27 has previously questioned whether the government has the political will to see the HMI  through to the end.

“If the HMI was a priority for the government, the money would have been found. That the money hasn’t been found at such a crucial stage in the process is deeply concerning. The delay is particularly worrisome in the light of the considerable investment so far,” said Section 27 executive director Umunyana Rugege shortly after it emerged the inquiry had been suspended.

“The cost of finalising the work of the inquiry is likely to be a fraction of the potential cost-savings from appropriate private healthcare sector reforms,” she said at the time.

The HMI’s final report was expected to have provided important evidence and analysis to guide health reforms for the private sector; its delay will have a knock-on effect on reforms that had the potential to make quality healthcare more affordable, warned Section 27.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za