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File picture: Pexels

Medical aid race scandal: Inquiry hears about 'focused investigation on Africans'

By BONGANI NKOSI Time of article published Aug 20, 2019

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Johannesburg - An African pharmacist and a white physician have revealed contrasting experiences before the inquiry investigating whether medical schemes discriminated against black doctors. 

Testifying at the Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi-chaired inquiry on Monday, Adri Kok said there was no indication that schemes engaged in racial profiling before instituting investigations into physicians who are members of the South African Private Practitioners Forum (SAPPF). Kok is a director of SAPPF. 

But her black counterpart, Kgabo Komape said evidence strongly indicated racial bias on probes against members of his organisation, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA). 

Komape effectively supported most of the testimonies that the commission has heard.

Black doctors have told the inquiry of how medical schemes launched "spurious" investigations into their practices when it was time to pay up. 

They said medical schemes arbitrarily withheld money due to them when they launched their probes. 

But Kok said it was uncommon for members of the SAPPF under investigation to have their money stopped. 

“As far as I know, not any of the physicians have had their payments stopped,” said Kok. “No one has had their payments suspended.

“They would not stop payment until there’s complete non-compliance from the doctors side or there’s no response to letters.”

Doctors have nothing to be afraid of if they do the right thing, Kok said. “We’ve tried to ensure that our members understand that it’s absolutely crucial if you feel that you’ve done correctly, you must be able to defend that. I don’t think there should be an issue with that.”

She said their data on members that have been probed since 2016 does not show race bias. 

Pressing Kok on her own data, Ngcukaitobi asked if it did not indicate bias against black doctors. 

“So you’ve got 35 African doctors, and six are investigated. There are 148 white doctors and only seven are subject to an investigation.

“That number looks surprising because it seems to suggest that there is a focused investigation on Africans compared to whites," Ngcukaitobi put it to Kok. 

"If you look at (that number) without analysis that might be a sign that there’s racial profiling. 

"The same thing with Indian doctors. Look at the fact that you have 63 of them, nine investigations. 

"Maybe there is an explanation to it," Ngcukaitobi said. 

Kok insisted their data was quiet on race dynamics. "We don’t see that," she said. 

"If doctor A or B came up as an outlier we have no idea what race group that person was." 

Komape said ICPA's evidence showed blacks were targeted. 

The organisation's data showed that 82% of black members have been probed while they made up just 35% of their 1100 membership. 

White pharmacists made up 65% of the association’s membership, but yet only 18% of them have been subjected to audits. 

Komape said if the system was not racially biased, more of its white members would be investigated. “Instead we find that it is the other way around.

"We’re reduced to crooks and dishonest people deserving no respect from society. This leads to (our) marginalisation from the health economy… 

"It's true that schemes have become a law into themselves. 

Komade dismissed investigators used by schemes as not being up to standard. 

"We’d be interested to know what qualifications they hold."

The inquiry continues on Wednesday. 


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The Star

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