The Competition Commission published the final Statement of Issues and Guidelines for Participation in the Market Inquiry into the Private Healthcare Sector.

The Commission in November 2013 announced that it would conduct a market inquiry into the private healthcare sector. This announcement was made soon after the Commission was granted increased powers in respect of conducting market inquiries by virtue of the Competition Amendment Act, 2009 coming into force. The Commission's inquiry is limited to that portion of the healthcare services market that is funded by private patients through direct payments, medical schemes, insurance or out-of-pocket payments. The Commission, in its Statement of Issues, identified the financing of healthcare, providers of healthcare services and healthcare consumables as the three broad categories of this market which it will focus on for purposes of this market inquiry.

The Statement of Issues sets out the initial views of the Commission of the appropriate framework for conducting the marketing inquiry as topics for consideration, although this can change during the course of the market inquiry. In its Statement of Issues the Commission identifies certain theories of harm of conduct in these markets that may result in a lessening or prevention of competition and in assessing these theories focus on consumers, healthcare financers and healthcare service and product providers. This assessment includes probable concerns relating to access to information om respect of healthcare services by consumers, the price, quality and availability of healthcare services and also the relationship between consumers, healthcare providers, healthcare insurance providers, brokers and medical schemes. The Commission will also focus on existing regulatory frameworks in the healthcare market relating to the financing of healthcare and the structures in which healthcare providers themselves operate. Although the private healthcare market is the primary focus of the inquiry, the Commission also intends to inspect the relationship between the private and public healthcare markets.

The purpose of the Guidelines is to assist the Inquiry Panel and stakeholders in respect of the conduct of the market inquiry and provide the rules for engagement in the market inquiry. In terms of the Guidelines, stakeholders are invited to participate in the market inquiry through written and oral submissions and, in some instances, requests for information from the Commission. Oral submissions will take place in an open forum during public hearings and written submissions will be publically available although stakeholders may claim information as confidential to prevent its disclosure to third parties

The most notable change to the Guidelines is that the Commission will no longer periodically produce progress reports in the course of the inquiry in order to inform the public of the progress and direction of the inquiry. In the initial draft of the Guidelines provision was made for these progress reports, which were proposed to be provided in addition to the provisional report to be published on the findings of the inquiry. Nevertheless, the Commission stresses its commitment to transparency and openness and the Guidelines still provide for preliminary observations and relevant information to be published by the inquiry panel during the course of the inquiry as and when the panel considers it appropriate to facilitate public participation and constructive comment.

The Commission has further called for submissions from stakeholders that wish to participate in the healthcare inquiry and participants have until 31 October 2014 to make submissions to the Commission.