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South Africa Plans Regulator for Health-Care Price, Quality

South Africa plans to set up a health-care pricing commission to regulate the private sector and “completely overhaul” the government medical service as the country prepares to introduce compulsory medical insurance.

“If we leave it only to market forces, we can’t reach our goals” of extending health care to the entire population, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in a speech in Johannesburg today. “I am not saying there must not be commerce, but it must be reasonable.”

The government plans to introduce the National Health Insurance program over 14 years starting in April in an effort to improve an ailing public health system plagued by shortages of medicine and staff as well as maintenance backlogs. The country has the worst health outcomes among the major emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the minister said.

Motsoaledi said he wants to deal “fairly and openly” with costs and that private medical care will continue to exist.

“Not in the African National Congress, Cabinet or any structure I belong to, have we discussed killing private health care,” the minister said. “It’s not on the agenda.”

Both the government and private medical systems are “destructive, unsustainable and need to change,” Motsoaledi said. “The quality of health care in the public sector has to be improved and isn’t a separate issue” from the insurance program’s development.

The country has a “mountain to climb” to reduce a “still extraordinarily high” child and maternal mortality rate and meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015, Motsoaledi said. About 5.7 million South Africans have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, more than any other nation.

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