Since 1994 the South African government has placed equity at the heart of its health policy goals. However, there has as yet been surprisingly little assessment of the success of policies in reducing inequity. This article provides insights on these issues by applying the Affordability Ladder conceptual framework in synthesizing evidence drawn from a series of household surveys and studies undertaken between 1992 and 2003. These data suggest that, despite policy efforts, inequities in access and utilization between socioeconomic groups remain. Underlying challenges include worsening community perceptions of the quality of publicly provided care and the influence of insurance status on utilization patterns. Further and more detailed evaluation of household-level policy impacts requires both improvements in the quality of South African survey data, particularly in enhancing consistency in survey design over time, and more detailed, focused studies.