Health Market Inquiry panellists (from left) Dr Cees van Gent, Dr Lungiswa Nkonki, Prof Sharon Fonn and Dr Ntuthuko Bhengu

Should the NHI Bill have been drafted and presented to Parliament before the Health Market Inquiry (HMI) panellists had finished their work and released their report and, importantly, their recommendations?

A question asked by several commentators and stakeholders in recent weeks, particularly since the NHI Bill public comment deadline was to be 11 October. It has in fact been announced by the Portfolio Committee on Health today that this deadline has been extended to 29 November (see Med Brief Africa report preceding this).

One of the main points of contention was, however, that the HMI report should have been one of the yet-unpublished documents “relied upon” in the drafting of the NHI Bill.

The HMI panellists, nonetheless, gave the assurance at their report presentation function this week that, given the fact that the full NHI implementation is some years away, the implementation of their recommendations would provide a better environment in which a fully implemented NHI can function.

Reminding those present that their mandate reflected in the HMI Terms of Reference was to primarily focus on issues that affect the private sector, they made the point that fixing incentives in the private sector was a necessary step towards NHI implementation.

They also stressed that the NHI would require supply-side providers to be regulated – a function that would be performed by their proposed Supply Side Health Regulator (SSHR) “as purchasing and monitoring requires oversight”.

And on competition, they added: “A more competitive private sector will have lower costs, prices and greater value-for-money.”

Concluding the point, the panellists stressed that state purchasers of service would benefit from greater competition and efficiency, thus endorsing Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele’s contention that “excluding competition from NHI would be a mistake!”