Regulating the for-profit private health sector: lessons from East and Southern Africa

posted Apr 23, 2015, 6:31 AM by Karine Gatellier   [ updated Apr 23, 2015, 6:52 AM ]

 Jane E Doherty

International evidence shows that, if poorly regulated, the private health sector may lead to distortions in the type, quantity, distribution, quality and price of health services, as well as anti-competitive behaviour. This article provides an overview of legislation governing the for-profit private health sector in East and Southern Africa. It identifies major implementation problems and suggests strategies Ministries of Health could adopt to regulate the private sector more effectively and in line with key public health objectives. This qualitative study was based on a document review of existing legislation in the region, and seven semi-structured interviews with individuals selected purposively on the basis of their experience in policymaking and legislation. Legislation was categorized according to its objectives and the level at which it operates. A thematic content analysis was conducted on interview transcripts. Most legislation focuses on controlling the entry of health professionals and organizations into the market. Most countries have not developed adequate legislation around behaviour following entry. Generally the type and quality of services provided by private practitioners and facilities are not well-regulated or monitored. Even where there is specific health insurance regulation, provisions seldom address open enrolment, community rating and comprehensive benefit packages (except in South Africa). There is minimal control of prices. Several countries are updating and improving legislation although, in most cases, this is without the benefit of an overarching policy on the private sector, or reference to wider public health objectives. Policymakers in the East and Southern African region need to embark on a programme of action to strengthen regulatory frameworks and instruments in relation to private health care provision and insurance. They should not underestimate the power of the private health sector to undermine efforts for increased regulation. Consequently they should conduct careful stakeholder analyses and build alliances to help drive through reform.

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