The application of competition law to the healthcare sector came under scrutiny at a conference held at Webber Wentzel on 24 August 2012. Competition Commission (Commission) staff, economists and healthcare sector stakeholders discussed the particular features of the healthcare market; enforcement action in relation to hospital mergers and collective bargaining; and the possibility of a market inquiry into the sector.

Participants seemed to agree that if a market inquiry is to proceed, a thorough analysis and full participation is required due to the multi-tiered and complex nature of the sector. The Commission also indicated that it is first considering options and investigating the nature of the industry before initiating a possible inquiry.

The Commission may initiate an inquiry similar to the Jali Commission that investigated the banking sector. Alternatively, it may wait for the Competition Amendment Act, No. 1 of 2009 coming into full force and effect (only the commencement date needs promulgation), as the Amendment Act provides the Commission with much more extensive market inquiry powers (including the ability to issues summons). It may however transpire that the Commission simply investigates and initiates complaints regarding to specific conduct in the healthcare sector if it is of the view that there are reasonable grounds to do so.

The speakers and panellists included Prof Alex van den Heever (Wits University), Dr James Hodge (Genesis Analytics), Mr Keith Weeks (former Manager, Enforcement & Exemptions Division, Commission), Mr Casper Venter (Healthman), Dr Nicola Theron and Ms Marine Erasmus (Econex), Mr Tembinkosi Bonakele (Deputy Commissioner, Commission), Ms Trudi Makhaya (Manager, Advocacy and Stakeholder Relations, Commission) and Webber Wentzel Competition Practice partners.

Click here to listen to an interview with Daryl Dingley on the Radio 702 Money Show on 27 August.

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