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13 March 2013

Healthcare probe in the offing

An inquiry into pricing and possible collusion in the healthcare market will begin on April 1, the Competition Commission said on Wednesday.

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An inquiry into pricing and possible collusion in the healthcare market will begin on April 1, the Competition Commission said.

"On the first of April it comes into effect. That's when we are planning to kick off the inquiry," Competition Commission divisional manager Clint Oellermann told reporters in Johannesburg.

The inquiry, which was expected to take two years, would examine the practices of hospital groups, administrators, and practitioners.

"It will cover a broad range of things," said Oellermann.

The inquiry followed complaints to the commission about many practices, and would probe, for example, whether there were agreements to charge set prices for procedures or consultations.

Oellermann said because the complaints were broad and persistent, the inquiry would allow an examination of the healthcare industry as a whole.

Pharmaceutical companies would not form part of the inquiry.

Commissioner Shan Ramburuth said companies and the public would be informed when the commission was ready to start the inquiry.

It had been working on it for some time and was waiting for section six of the Competition Amendment Act to come into effect.

It was signed and assented to by President Jacob Zuma on August 28, 2009. On Friday, Zuma determined that section six would come into effect on April 1, 2013.

This gives the commission the legal powers to go ahead with the inquiry.

The inquiry

Ramburuth said the experience and some of the structures of the commission's banking inquiry would be used to make its consultations as broad as possible - from healthcare companies with their legal teams, to the ordinary person who needed to raise a point.

A market inquiry is a formal inquiry in respect of the general state of competition in a market for particular goods or services, without necessarily referring to the conduct or activities of any particular named firm.

The commission can initiate a market enquiry if it has reason to believe any feature or combination of features of a market for any goods or services prevents, distorted or restricted competition.

According to the commission, at the end of the inquiry, recommendations could be made to the minister (of economic development) for new policy or regulations.

The commission could also initiate its own complaint, which could be dealt with by the Competition Tribunal.

The amendment also gives the Competition Commission the ability to issue summons to compel people to appear before the inquiry and to compel evidence which has a bearing on the subject matter to be presented.

It also deals with various offences, including a failure to answer fully or truthfully during an inquiry, and provides for confidentiality.

 
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