Top-ranking health officials reiterated Government’s subtle request to the private sector for closer cooperation ahead of the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI). In his opening address the Hospital Association of South Africa (Hasa) conference, attended by an estimated 300 delegates, Motsoaledi reiterated his clarion call to captains of industry.
Much like Motsoaledi, and without going into details, Malebone Precious Matsotso, the health department’s director-general, also requested the assistance of the private sector as Government seeks to march towards universal care. In her presentation, which also referred to the NHI, Matsotso blamed “current realities” such as poverty and the impact of historic spatial development for unequal provision of care.
“We’ve got to address social determinants of health,” Matsotso said, adding that the continued economic turmoil shouldn’t dampen spending on important. “Budgetary cuts… in health and education would be disastrous.”
The road to universal care won’t be easy nor short, acknowledged Matsotso who also singled out the public sector’s perennial staff shortages as one of the biggest stumbling blocks.
Speaking to Finweek on the sidelines of the conference on Thursday, Hasa outgoing chairman Nkaki Matlala said the private sector was more than happy to assist. Referring to Netcare, which is contracted by the UK’s National Health Service, Matlala asserted that the South African private sector – rather than Government – claims experience in an NHI-style environment.
“The private sector is better-resourced to assist when called up, it’s done a lot of research and has human resources that would enable it to play a role. Government is aware of this and the political chasm between them and the private sector,” Matlala said. “However, unfortunately, the private sector is still viewed with a degree of suspicion, which in turn hinders or slows down progress in several instances.”
But, the private sector – including medical aid schemes and doctors – hasn’t always been transparent, either. This has revived the discussion on price regulation in the sector. While it’s still early days, it’s becoming clearer that the private healthcare service providers, and potentially the R100bn medical aid industry, will be probed for pricing before the end of next year. But, as Econex MD Nicola Theron predicts, these exercises can drag on for years.
“Some have argued that (tariffs) should be left to market forces, but there is a realisation that this is risky and when the risk matures into a crisis, then the State is accused of poor stewardship,” Motsoaledi argued. He the urged the private sector to join him in his crusade to find answers, that will probably enable more people to access private healthcare.
Whatever the result of the mooted market inquiry, Theron feels “price regulation (is) not optimal”, partly because it could lead to “perverse outcomes”. Matlala echoes this but is cognizant that “it’s inevitable for parameters” to be re-set in the wake of inquiries.
Nevertheless, Hasa is ready, says the outgoing chairman as he passes the leadership baton to Melanie da Costa, Netcare exco member. “Market inquiry doesn’t bother us, we’re concerned about issues of sustainability and not, contrary to some, super profits. We’ll gladly participate in the process.” Stocks in hospital and medical aid firms have largely ignored news of this much-vaunted inquiry. But, Da Costa can hardly ignore the issue, which, in turn, is bound to keep her diary busy for some months.
Shoks Mnisi Mzolo