Private healthcare spending has increased by more than 300% in the past 12 years, says Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

Speaking to City Press following reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the high cost of private healthcare in South Africa, Dr Motsoaledi said: “Private healthcare spending has increased by more than 300% in the past 12 years and if we calculate the future spend using the current increases, it will approach half a trillion Rand.”

Dr Motsoaledi said this was unacceptable and added: “Nowhere in the world does private healthcare cost this much. We are even higher than the US, which has a private healthcare spend of 35% of total health spend. But what is better about the US is that this 35% healthcare spend serves 61% of the population, while in South Africa 42% of the total healthcare spend serves 16% of the population.”

The Competition Commission is currently holding an inquiry into the costs of private healthcare.

Motsoaledi alleged private hospitals were planning to challenge the WHO and OECD report at the inquiry. The hearings, which began on 16 February 2016 in Pretoria, form part of a lengthy probe into private healthcare.

“We have heard that private hospital lawyers are planning to bring in experts from the UK to come and rubbish the report. We are not surprised by this because they have done it before,” said the Dr Motsoaledi.

“They see that the WHO and OECD have presented strong evidence about what we have been saying for years, they are bringing in British experts to come and challenge the integrity of this report,” continued Dr Motsoaledi.

According to the Minister, the submission by the WHO and OECD was the “most impactful as the WHO is the ultimate authority in health and the OECD the ultimate authority in competition.”

The Hospital Association of SA (HASA), which represents about 80% of the private sector, denied this was their plan.

“HASA has no knowledge of any experts being brought in from anywhere for the purposes alleged by the minister,” said HASA chairperson, Melanie Da Costa.

Da Costa said HASA had noted the submission of a working paper commissioned by the Department of Health, and tabled by an OECD and WHO study group, to the health inquiry.

“Our initial response is to note that the paper uses data from some medical schemes that together represent only 60% of medical schemes in the country. We are, unfortunately, unable to ascertain which medical schemes these are, and whether they are managed by one or more of the medical scheme management companies,” said Da Costa.

“Secondly, in our view the paper is essentially an affordability study. It focuses on the affordability of private healthcare for all South Africans, not those on medical schemes.”

“We believe the paper might also have looked at the affordability of private healthcare for people with jobs in addition to the affordability of private healthcare for the unemployed, which it seems was the paper’s focus, ” continued Da Costa.

“This would seem appropriate in a country that is acknowledged to embody both developed and developing economic characteristics and which has as wide a Gini coefficient [wealth gap] as ours,” concluded Da Costa.

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