- Screenshot, HBO
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 was going on at DaVita Inc., the country’s largest for-profit kidney-dialysis company.
It’s a firm with a $13 billion market cap that hauled in nearly $800 million in profit in 2016, thanks in part to the rise in America of diabetes and heart disease, which can result in kidney complications, and in part to legislation signed by President Richard Nixon in the 1970s approving government funding for all dialysis treatment for Americans.
“Treating end-stage kidney disease takes up nearly 1% of the entire federal budget,” Oliver said. “Just think about that for a second. We devote 2% of the federal budget to the Department of Education, and that’s the thing that helps you know what a percent is.”
So companies like DaVita – helmed by CEO 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 a Medieval Times” – have been incredibly successful.
What Oliver takes issue with, however, is what’s happening to DaVita’s patients. Both they and former employees have described 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 their dialysis done, and get the next patient on.”
Thiry himself has made comments suggesting a lack of focus on patient outcomes.
“I almost never refer to patients in the entire thing because, for me, it’s not about the patients – it’s about the teammates,” he told business students at UCLA in a clip Oliver played. “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 speed, the company has had issues with infection and disease control in its facilities across the country, according to Oliver. California is attempting to pass legislation to strengthen oversight of dialysis centers like DaVita, which currently need to be inspected only every six years, while hospitals must be inspected every two and nursing homes annually – and these centers don’t require doctors to be on-site either.
We should note, as Oliver did, that the company has paid close to $1 billion over the last five years to settle allegations including paying doctors kickbacks in exchange for referrals and overcharging Medicare for medicine.
DaVita didn’t immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Watch the full segment: