NMa: healthcare sector under intensified scrutiny
'The healthcare sector currently presents us with cause for concern. We have indications that home care organisations are participating in cartel agreements. As a result, consumers are limited in choosing healthcare services to fit their own preferences with regard to both price and quality'. Thus comments Pieter Kalbfleisch, Chairman of the Board of the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa), at the occasion of the presentation of the NMa Agenda 2008.
'We have indications for market-sharing practices in the market for home care services, which thwart the legislator's express wish for more competition,' states Kalbfleisch, whose message is intended for politicians as well as the public at large. If such practices are established upon hearing both parties, this is most damaging', warns the Chairman. 'It is not just healthcare clients who suffer. Taxpayers in general are put at a disadvantage, as a 12.5 per cent charge on their gross earnings is levied for funding healthcare services under the Exceptional Medical Expenses Act [AWBZ]. Parties who knowingly take part in a cartel may confess to doing so by reporting to the NMa's Leniency Office. In so doing, they become eligible for fine immunity or fine reduction. Kalbfleisch: 'Eligibility depends on the nature of the material that is submitted to us, though confessing to a cartel may indeed pay off and it will definitely help us in our effort to keep the sector on the right track.'
The NMa's tenth anniversary
Pieter Kalbfleisch reflected on the NMa's tenth anniversary. 'The past ten years have brought on many changes. It is now clear that cartels are prohibited. It has also become generally accepted that cartels are harmful, as the global market poses the need to innovate and to maximise our competitive effort. It is all about preserving the economic power of the Netherlands. This requires a high level of competition. We should not look to cartels for protection. Particularly consumers do not stand to benefit from such a course of action', emphasises Kalbfleisch.
As set out in the Agenda for 2008, the NMa will this year focus on the food and agri-business sector, the financial sector and the postal market, in addition to healthcare. Alongside, the NMa's sector-specific chambers, the Office of Energy Regulation (DTe) and the Office of Transport Regulation regulate energy and transport markets. As of 1 January 2008, the Office of Transport Regulation enforces the Market Monitoring Registered Pilotage Services Bill [Wet markttoezicht registerloodsen]. As part of its wider regulatory programme, DTe will work on stimulating and improving the North-West European market for gas and electricity. In this respect, the regulation of national network operators will be a prime focus.
In 2007 various markets have been structurally and thoroughly analysed. This has provided the basis for specific plans, which are to be reflected in concrete enforcement action over 2008.
Annual bulletin 2007
In addition to the Agenda the NMa has today presented preliminary figures over 2007. In the past year the NMa has imposed sanctions in 7 cases, amounting to a total of nearly EUR 10 million. Furthermore, the NMa has completed 65 complaints cases concerning alleged infringements of the Competition Act. In all, 10 cases were completed by other means than a statement of objections. Instead, for instance, parties revised procedures and/ or regulation in compliance with the Competition Act. In 2007, 4 investigations into the trade sector, construction industry and healthcare established a suspicion of infringement, as laid down in a statement of objections. In addition, the NMa received 108 merger notifications. Most striking among these are 4 merger cases in which the NMa established potential risks to competition and called for a second-phase investigation (in healthcare, Nuon/ Essent, sugar manufacturers). Pursuant to energy legislation, the NMa resolved 63 disputes on energy-related matters. The Office of Transport Regulation within the NMa has issued 4 statements of objections on grounds of suspected infringements of the Railway Act [Spoorwegwet] (Network Statement and capacity allocation); it completed 3 cases by other means than a statement of objections. Via ConsuWijzer, the national consumer helpline jointly operated by OPTA, the Consumer Authority and the NMa, the NMa last year processed well over 11,000 energy and competition related consumer queries and complaints.
The NMa Agenda 2008 and the Annual Bulletin 2007 may be downloaded from the website.