Leave it to comedian John Oliver to examine what DaVita CEO Kent Thiry could have meant when he said if he ran Taco Bell franchises instead of a dialysis provider, he’d “be doing all the same stuff.”
That was just one of the points Oliver covers in his highly informative (and very entertaining) examination of the for-profit dialysis industry. His message: For-profit dialysis companies should not be maximizing profits at the expense of their patients.
Aside from poking fun at Thiry’s antics, which include dressing up as a musketeer and quoting the “The Man In The Iron Mask” at corporate events, Oliver also noted that DaVita has paid nearly $1 billion to settle allegations relating to kickbacks and overcharging for medicine.
Much of the activity described in the 24-minute segment was discovered because whistleblowers chose to speak up and file False Claims Act “qui tam” lawsuits.
The False Claims Act is a powerful legal tool that not only offers whistleblowers protection from retaliation, but also allows for a share of the settlement to be paid to the whistleblower who originally brings a case alleging fraud against the government. “Qui tam” lawsuits helped recover $2.9 billion for the federal government in 2016 alone.
One settlement that Oliver mentioned was for a case Phillips & Cohen brought on behalf of a whistleblower client. DaVita paid $400 million – $389 million to the federal government plus $11.5 million to various states – to settle the whistleblower case, which alleged that DaVita paid doctors hidden kickbacks as a way to get patient referrals for its dialysis clinics and to reduce or eliminate competition from other dialysis centers.
Oliver noted DaVita’s settlement of another whistleblower case relating to its use of a drug called Epogen, which he referred to as “liquid gold.” Although Phillips & Cohen did not bring that case, it did bring a whistleblower lawsuit involving Epogen against another dialysis provider, a company acquired by US Renal Care called Dialysis Corporation of America.
The lawsuit, which settled for $7.3 million, alleged that DCA billed Medicare not just for the amount of Epogen it paid for, but for the “overfill” that the maker of Epogen includes for free to ensure the proper dosage can be administered.
We’re glad Oliver has refocused some national attention on False Claims Act cases against dialysis companies. We hope the show will inspire company insiders to speak up when they have concerns about patient harm and possible fraud against the government.
Those considering taking that step should contact a lawyer to find out how the False Claims Act can reward them and help them if they are retaliated against at their jobs.
You can watch the full clip from Last Week Tonight below.