Former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo has worked to assure private healthcare providers that the ongoing investigation into the competitiveness of the sector should not be regarded as a campaign to discredit the industry, telling stakeholders on Thursday that an impending public consultation process is aimed solely at identifying anticompetitive practices and serving as a fact-finding mission.
“The aim [of the public consultations] is not to cross-examine stakeholders, but rather to seek information and answers to questions posed. This is not the occasion to turn the market inquiry into open session akin to what one witnesses in court; it’s an enquiry.
“[The process aims to determine] whether there are features in the market that tend to undermine competition and, if so, what recommendations should be made to enhance competitiveness. [Ours is] not the role of a prosecutor to cross-examine witnesses, as in a trial, but to get information,” Ngcobo, who had been named chairperson of the enquiry, said during a progress briefing, in Pretoria.
The investigation, which was currently in its information assessment and analysis phases, was launched by the Competition Commission in January 2015, which cited its mandate to assess the general state of competition in a particular market, noting that it had reason to believe that there were features of the sector that prevented, distorted or restricted competition.
It had since sent out further information requests to over 160 stakeholders in the private healthcare sector, and conducted detailed inquiries into healthcare access and competition concerns highlighted in submissions.
The commission in October extended the date by which it planned to complete the enquiry from November 30, 2015, to December 15, 2016, citing delays in accessing information from certain stakeholders and the large volumes of data and information it had received.
Updating stakeholders on the enquiry’s revised timetable, Ngcobo said pre-public hearing consultations would be held from January 26 to January 29, with consumers, organised labour and nongovernment organisations engaged with on January 26; service providers, hospital groups and practitioners consulted with on January 27; brokers, medical aid schemes and managed care organisations engaged with on January 28; and regulators and policymakers consulted with on January 29.
This would be followed by public hearings from February 16 to June 9, which would run concurrently with ongoing research and analytical work.
Between February 16 and March 10, he continued, general sessions that saw input from all stakeholders, including consumers, service providers, financiers, regulators and policymakers, would be held in four provinces – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape.
“The purpose of these sessions is to gain an understanding of how groups interact with one another, enabling the enquiry and public to gain better understanding of sector,” he remarked.
This would be followed by a further five sets of public hearings, during which sessions would focus on competition issues, the competitive dynamics between funders and service providers and the impact of the legislative framework.
“We sincerely hope that all stakeholders will cooperate in this difficult process and hope that none will display an obstructionist attitude. We hope the sprit of cooperation that has characterised the enquiry to date, will continue.
“We’re acutely aware of the anxiety of the stakeholders . . . [and] will work to strike a balance between sticking to deadlines and conducting an adequate investigation,” Ngcobo concluded.