Updated 17 February 2016

SA has one of the world's most expensive private healthcare systems – WHO

South Africa has one of the most expensive private healthcare systems in the world, and only 17% of the population can afford it, the WHO told a Competition Commission inquiry.


South Africa has one of the most expensive private healthcare systems in the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) told a Competition Commission inquiry in Pretoria on Wednesday.

“Private hospital prices in South Africa are on par with prices in countries with much higher GDP levels – including the United Kingdom, Germany and France,” said Francesca Colombo, head of the WHO and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) health division.

South Africa spent 41.8% of total health expenditure on private, voluntary health insurance, more than any OECD country. However, only 17% of the population, mostly those with high incomes, could afford private insurance. 

The organisation was making a presentation to the Competition Commission’s market inquiry into South Africa’s private healthcare sector. One of its aims was to increase market transparency.

Payments to specialists

Colombo said figures from OECD countries indicated that a country’s wealth, as measured by per capita GDP, corresponded with higher price levels for hospitals.

Given that South Africa had the lowest GDP per capita relative to other OECD countries, it was expected that hospital prices in South Africa would be significantly lower.

“However, South Africa is an exception to this trend,” she said.

It was further established that general prices for goods and services in South Africa were 53% lower than those in OECD countries. 

For selected hospital services, prices increased above the rate of inflation – on average by 6.5 percentage points per year – between 2011 and 2013. 

According to figures, surgical services made up 54% of total claims to medical aids in 2011, increasing to 60% in 2013. Payments to specialists appeared to be driving this increase, Colombo said.


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