/ 10 January 2008

Manto to meet private hospitals over tariff hikes

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang will meet heads of private hospital groups to discuss drastic hospital tariff increases, the Health Department said on Thursday.

The meeting would take place on Friday to discuss the tariff increases from 8% to 33%, ”well above the general inflation rate”, said department spokesperson Charity Bhengu.

”The minister hopes that all parties will participate in the discussions in a spirit of finding a solution that would benefit the people of this country.”

Bhengu said the private sector catered for seven million members of the medical schemes.

On Thursday, the South African Human Rights Commission called on private hospital groups not to impair the right of access to healthcare.

”These groups … need to both clearly motivate and substantively justify those tariff increases, which may be considered excessive and could potentially undermine the right of access to healthcare services,” said commission spokesperson Vincent Moaga.

The commission said the hospital groups, while private, did not act in a commercial vacuum.

”Their actions may have a direct effect on the rights of individuals, and their actions may be subject to constitutional scrutiny.”

The commission said it encouraged transparent engagement between the stakeholders and hoped for a constructive outcome to the discussions between the health minister and the private hospital groups.

Earlier on Thursday, trade union Solidarity said it would support possible court action against the tariff increases.

Union spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans said the union planned to join proposed court action by the Council for Medical Schemes if private hospital groups inadequately answered the council’s questions regarding a solution to the tariff issue.

Union deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann said members were increasingly concerned at ”tremendous increases” in private healthcare costs — which themselves increased medical-fund contributions.

”Private hospital groups make exorbitant profits … in spite of making huge profits at the expense of sick people, they now want to implement tariff increases that far outstrip the inflation rate,” said Hermann.

”This demonstrates blatant shareholder fundamentalism, in which companies like Medi-Clinic and Netcare focus solely on the interests of their shareholders at the expense of their clients and the South African public in general. This is unacceptable.”

Solidarity said planned increases on medical-fund rates was a concern.

”This increasingly puts medical-fund membership outside the reach of millions of working South Africans.”

Hermann said poor standards in South African public hospitals meant medical-fund membership should not to be priced beyond the reach of working middle-class South Africans ”while hospitals chase outrageous profits”. — Sapa