Chief Justice nominee Judge Sandile Ngcobo. 853 Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - A retired judge, academics and economists have been brought together to probe the reasons for the continued escalation of health-care costs in South Africa.

The Competition Commission announced yesterday that retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo would chair the market inquiry into the health-care sector, which is aimed at uncovering factors that have a distortive impact on competition in the health sector.

The rest of the panel were identified as Professor Sharon Fonn, the acting dean of health sciences at Wits University; Ntuthuko Bhengu, who served on the pharmaceutical pricing committee working group; Lungiswa Nkonki, a senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch with a PhD in economics; and Cornelis van Gent, an economist with extensive experience in competition economics.

They had been tasked with overseeing the inquiry’s public hearings, reviewing submissions, drafting the inquiry report and producing its final recommendations, the commission said yesterday.

The probe will look not only at competition distortions, but also regulatory failures that contribute to price escalations in the sector.

The team will consider everything from the public sector’s interaction with the private sector, the pricing of and demand for new technology and the implications of health professional salaries on service provider competition, to the integrity of the regulatory framework. This necessitated that the panel have diverse skills and come from different parts of the industry.

Even though some industry commentators who have been observing the developments around the inquiry said this was not a list of people they would have “naturally expected” to make up this panel, industry players still thought the panel struck the right balance of skills needed.

“You are never going to have the best because some of the best are serving the private sector, but it’s a fairly good mix of people. You have the legal fraternity, which is important, and people with business experience,” Stavros Nicolaou at Aspen Pharmacare said.

He referred to Bhengu, who has had executive appointments at Metropolitan Health, Clinix Health Group and Biotech Laboratories. Bhengu also held a non-executive director position at Nestlé and was appointed by the Health Professions Council of SA to propose ethical tariff guidelines for 12 professional boards for 2006.

“Obviously there is no one with pharmaceutical experience, but Bhengu has some experience that we trust will be of assistance,” Nicolaou said.

Discovery Health chief executive Jonathan Broomberg said the panellists were all highly respected experts in their various fields and the company welcomed their appointments.

“The panel appears to have an excellent balance of the skills and experience required for this task. We look forward to working with the commission and panel on finding sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our health-care system,” Broomberg said.

The panel will be supported by a team of investigators comprising the Competition Commission’s economists and lawyers and expert consultants.

The commission said the panel would in due course issue administrative guidelines for the inquiry, which it is supposed to complete by the end of November next year.

These guidelines will set out the timelines for the inquiry and define the rules for public hearings. - Business Report