/ 15 January 2008

Private healthcare tariffs under spotlight

The threat of prosecution at a high-powered meeting with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang forced private hospital groups to commit to reconsidering their annual tariff increases last Friday, Business Report said on Tuesday.

The Health Department warned hospital groups to comply with the law when charging for anaesthetic gases, or face prosecution.

The warning was made at a meeting — also attended by the country’s provincial ministers of health, policy makers and 22 chief executives from private hospital groups — to discuss private hospitals’ tariff increases for this year.

Before the meeting, the hospital groups had been adamant that contractual agreements had already been signed with individual medical schemes, and that the increases had been implemented with effect from this month.

In addition to general tariff increases of 9% and 10%, hospital groups, including Netcare, Life Healthcare and the National Hospital Network, had proposed ward and theatre fees hikes of between 8% and 33% for this year, and increases in the costs of anaesthetic gases by as much as R13 a minute.

Charity Bhengu, the spokesperson for the department, said hospitals had been told to ensure they complied with the law with regard to charges for anaesthetic gases.

They would have no alternative but to prosecute transgressions, she said.

She said that when challenged by the government to consider the affordability by members of medical schemes, representatives of the hospital groups committed themselves to reconsidering the tariff increases.

The Mail & Guardian reported last Friday that private hospitals could face demands to repay about R1-billion that they allegedly charged medical schemes in the past three years for overpriced theatre gases that were not used on patients.

Kurt Worrall-Clare, the chief executive of the Hospital Association of South Africa, denied any wrongdoing on the part of hospital groups.

He said charging for these gases was done according to the national health price reference list, published by the department to serve as a reference for the private healthcare industry.

He said that if Tshabalala-Msimang wanted them to stop using that list, they would.

Stephen Harrison, a senior strategist at the Council for Medical Schemes, said the council was monitoring developments, the report concluded. — Sapa