The South African government said Friday it planned laws to curb the escalating cost of private health care, which it claims is threatening to derail the nation's health programme.
"The ever-increasing cost of private healthcare undermines our transformation agenda," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told members of the private health sector in Midrand, near Pretoria.
The health minister said fees charged by private healthcare practitioners were unsustainable and unaffordable.
"If we do not intervene now, it is quite possible that the private health care sector will shrink and perhaps collapse," she said.
Legislation which sought to regulate the cost of medicine by fixing dispensing fees created a furore, ending up in the country's constitutional court in 2005, which upheld the pricing regulations.
"Government intervention on the matter which began with the reduction in the prices of drugs and medical equipment, will now be followed up with appropriate legislation to control the cost of medical care in all its ramifications in private hospitals," health ministry spokesman Sibani Mngadi told AFP.
He said a meeting with private health leaders sought to find ways of "reducing inflated health services in the sector which is hurting the population."
Tshabalala-Msimang said expenditure in private hospitals had increased by 121 percent in 10 years, going from eight billion rand (1.1 billion dollars) in 1997 to 17.17 billion rand in 2006/2007.
Many South Africans, especially in rural areas, cannot afford private health care and have to deal with often appalling conditions in the ailing public system.