10 June 2008

South Africa: Zille Says Health Bill Will Drive Skills Away

Cape Town — The National Health Amendment Bill would have the opposite effect on the health sector from what is intended, driving prices higher and increasing the numbers of professionals leaving for greener pastures overseas, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille said yesterday.

The bill seeks to give the health minister the power to cap price increases in the private sector. It is also the second bill in the past month, after the Expropriation Bill, to attempt to circumscribe the powers of the courts to adjudicate on the fairness of state actions.

Zille said at a news conference that she agreed with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang that prices in the private sector were too high, but stressed the route taken by the state was likely to destroy something that was working rather than making things better.

Zille said the bill would effectively give the minister the power to determine private- sector hospital fees.

"Rather than looking for ways in which to make the skills and high quality of service in the private sector more accessible to more South Africans, the minister has taken a path that will very likely cause SA to lose these skills completely.

"There is no doubt that prices are too high in the private sector. But this is the government's fault for creating an uncompetitive and overregulated environment, and for enforcing an artificial divide between the public and the private sectors."

Zille said her comments were based on the DA's policy document, Partners in Health, which would be forwarded to the minister.

Zille homed in on competition as being the main factor in bringing prices down. She said there was little effective competition in the private health sector because the state had barriers in the path of new entrants to the sector. This meant limited supply where there was a great demand and this was a recipe for higher prices.

"Current health policy is aimed at creating a strict separation between the public and private sectors and tight, centralised control over public hospitals. This has created many of the problems with competitiveness and quality that plague the public service, while also ensuring that prices remain high in the private sector (due to) a small and captive market."

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