Health and ensuring consumers get a fair deal are priority for the consumer watchdog, the ACCC.
Chair Rod Sims outlined the ACCC’s aim to prioritise new and continuing areas of concern, particularly small business and health in an address at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). .
In a wide-ranging speech, Sims said that Indigenous consumer protection is an enduring priority.
“This is a significant change to our policy recognising that Indigenous consumers, particularly those living in remote areas, continue to face challenges in asserting their consumer rights. The elevation means that the ACCC will always prioritise its work in these areas while these challenges remain.
“Unfortunately,Indigenous consumers continue to face some of the most outrageous selling tactics.
“We will continue our successful Your Rights Mob project, which helps inform Indigenous consumers about their rights through social media and community visits.
“Through the project, and this is fundamental, we are building partnerships with Indigenous communities and other support agencies to detect more breaches of the law at an earlier stage.”
On health, Sims said that it had a number of key concerns, namely anti-competitive conduct which has an impact on access to health services; and sponsors making misleading health claims.
He cited ongoing interventions into misleading statements, such as Nurofen claiming its products are developed for specific types of pain “when the Nurofen products were identical”.Sims also said there had been unconscionable conduct from companies supplying and promoting products for sexual dysfunction.
He also pinpointed health practices in Wagga Wagga,which he alleges are “anti-competitive” and would have an have an effect on the supply of day surgery services.
“Competition and consumer issues in the health and medical sector remain a priority in 2016.”
“This year, we will follow up on our 2015 report on the private health insurance industry to address concerns about incomplete policy information that are not only confusing but also misleading, said Sims.
“For example, in December, following an investigation, Calvary Bruce Private Hospital (in Canberra) agreed to provide patients with more information about potential out-of-pocket costs.”
He also warned that health service providers need to ensure there disclosure practices are in line with Australian Consumer Law.
“We will take some action in this area shortly,” he told the conference.
Another area of concern this year is misleading health claims relating to food products, “and [we have] some well-advanced investigations in this area”.
Sims also took aim at supermarket giant Woolworths which had been made to pay more in $3m in penalties due safety issue breaches.
“This judgment should send a warning to companies that they must do more to detect unsafe products and remove them from their shelves.”