John Oliver tackled a healthcare story on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” and it was a thing of beauty.
During his longest segment of the show, Oliver explained what’s going on at DaVita Inc., the country’s largest for-profit kidney dialysis company. It’s a firm with a $US13 billion market cap that hauled in nearly $US800 million in profits in 2016, thanks in part to the rise of diabetes and heart disease (which result in kidney complications) in America.
The company’s profits come in part because back in the 1970s, President Richard Nixon signed legislation approving government funding for all dialysis treatment for Americans.
“Treating end-state kidney disease takes up 1% of the federal budget,” Oliver pointed out. “Think about it. We devote 2% of the Federal Budget to the Department of Education, and that helps you figure out what a per cent is.”
So companies like DaVita — which is helmed by a CEO named Kent Thiry, an enthusiastic man so obsessed with the movie “The Man in the Iron Mask” that he often wears a Musketeer outfit in company meetings and videos that Oliver says makes him look like the “third saddest waiter at Medieval Times” — have been incredibly successful.
What Oliver takes issue with, however, is what’s happening to their patients. Both they, and former employees, describe DaVita as something like a dialysis factory, where patients are rushed on and off machines, sometimes before the process is complete.
“It was all about numbers,” said one former employee, “you want to get them in, get them on the machine, and get their dialysis done.”
Thiry himself has made comments suggesting a lack of focus on patient outcomes.
“I almost never refer to patients in the entire thing because it’s not about the patients,” he said to business students at UCLA in a clip played by Oliver. “It’s about the teammates… If I had 1,400 Taco Bells and 32,000 people who worked in them I would be doing all the same stuff.”
Because of that Taco Bell speed, the company has had issues with infection and disease control in its its facilities across the country, according to Oliver. California is passing legislation to strengthen oversight of dialysis centres like DaVita, which currently only need to be inspected every six years. Hospitals must be inspected every two, and nursing homes annually. We should note that these centres don’t require doctors to be on site either.
We should also note, as Oliver did, that the company has paid close to $US1 billion in settlements over the last five years for transgressions ranging from paying doctors kickbacks in exchange for referrals, to overcharging Medicare for medicine.
DaVita has yet to respond to our request for comment.
You can watch the full segment below: