'Competition and consumer issues in the health and medical sector remain a priority in 2016.' - Rod Sims, Chairman, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently released its enforcement priorities for 2016. Each year, the ACCC nominates its key areas of focus for the upcoming year. This can assist businesses in settling their compliance activities and in identifying risk areas that should be pro-actively addressed.

The ACCC's continuing focus on the medical and health sector 

The ACCC nominated the medical and health sector as a continuing enforcement priority for 2016. The Chairman indicated that the ACCC had a number of investigations currently underway in the sector. He also flagged that the ACCC would soon be likely to take action against industry participants in relation to disclosure practices that the ACCC consider fail to comply with the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). These actions are likely to concern:

  • allegedly incomplete or inaccurate information being provided by private health insurers and comparison website operators to customers or potential customers in relation to private health insurance policies, and 
  • allegedly incomplete or inaccurate information being provided by hospitals to patients, such as in relation to out-of-pocket costs.

The ACCC first nominated the medical and health sector as an enforcement priority in 2015. It took several enforcement actions in relation to the sector last year, including against a private hospital in relation to agreements with its accredited doctors and against suppliers of medications in relation to promotions and claims about their products. 

Other areas of focus for the ACCC

The ACCC also announced its focus in 2016 on a number of other areas, including the following:

  • Cartels - the Chairman noted that the ACCC has approximately 20 cartel investigations currently underway and expects to take its first one or two criminal proceedings this year. This follows the establishment last year of a group within the ACCC dedicated to investigating serous cartel conduct, including criminal cartel conduct. 
  • Consumer issues affecting vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, including the elderly and Indigenous Australians - the ACCC will prioritise its activities to protect these groups of consumers. The Chairman noted that the ACCC is looking into potential issues relating to the sale of hearing aids and representations by a retirement village about the rights of their residents to choose a telecommunications service provider. It recently issued infringement notices to two retailers in relation to misleading claims about adjustable beds and mobility equipment. 

Next steps

To ensure you don't become a target for the ACCC, it is important to:

  • assess your risk based on the ACCC's areas of focus in 2016
  • proactively address any identified risks, particularly ensuring that your disclosure practices are in line with the ACL, and 
  • ensure on-going compliance measures are in place.