By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: July 31, 2023 ~
The chart above compares the stock price performance of the kidney dialysis company, DaVita (ticker DVA), with the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index since 1996. Right away, something looks very wrong. Why should a healthcare company delivering dialysis treatment to people with kidney failure make the kind of profits that would generate this outsized stock price return?
Investigative reporter and author, Tom Mueller, has dedicated his latest book to pulling back the curtain on the dirty underbelly of this industry. The book, How to Make a Killing: Blood, Death and Dollars in American Medicine, will be available for sale in bookstores tomorrow. If you have a loved one receiving kidney dialysis at centers run by either DaVita or Fresenius, we urge you to stop what you’re doing, buy this book, and read it from cover to cover. The book presents nothing short of an indictment of rabid capitalism run amok, effectively turning what should be a life-saving branch of medicine into a criminal enterprise.
DaVita and Fresenius are a duopoly, controlling about 80 percent of the 6,900 dialysis centers across America, writes Mueller. According to an economist, Ryan McDevitt, who has extensively researched the results of this consolidation and spoke on the record with Mueller, this is what happens when an independent dialysis center is acquired by the duopoly:
“When DaVita and Fresenius acquire independent facilities, they start implementing their best practices, at least from their viewpoint, which means maximizing profits. So they’re pumping patients full of drugs. They’re cutting back staffing ratios. All the things that make a business really profitable and productive, they’re doing. Unfortunately, we find this has severe consequences for patients. Death rates go up, hospitalization rates go up, transplant rates fall, and so on. Any measure that could get worse pretty much got worse, after the big chains acquired independent facilities.”
What is going on here is not a deep secret from the U.S. Department of Justice. Mueller explains that “Between 2014 and 2018 alone, DaVita and its subsidiaries paid out more than $1.5 billion in legal settlements and damages. DaVita’s founder, Kent Thiry, who ran a bizarre, cult-like atmosphere at the company – which is brilliantly depicted by Mueller in ghastly detail – stepped down in 2019 and was indicted two years later by a federal grand jury in Colorado. The Big Law firm, WilmerHale, brags on its website as to how it got both Thiry and DaVita acquitted at trial, writing:
“A WilmerHale team led by Partner John Walsh and former Counsel Daniel Crump, working closely with lawyers from Morgan Lewis Bockius, achieved a landmark, precedent-setting trial victory for our client DaVita, Inc in the first-ever trial of a criminal labor market allocation case brought by the US Department of Justice.
“On April 15, 2022, after a two-week trial and two days of deliberation, a federal jury in Denver acquitted both the company and its former chief executive officer Kent Thiry on all charges — three counts of criminal conspiracy to violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
“The stakes were extremely high. DaVita faced fines of up to $100 million per count while Thiry faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine per count.”
Morgan Lewis Bockius, the law firm mentioned above that worked with WilmerHale to achieve this acquittal, currently has its former partner, Kenneth Polite, sitting at the helm of the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice – despite a financial disclosure form that suggests he was never seriously vetted for the job.
WilmerHale is the 1,000-attorney firm that is currently defending JPMorgan Chase in federal court (a serially charged bank that has racked up five felony counts on other matters since 2014) over very credible claims that it “actively engaged” in Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking of underage girls for more than a decade.
One of the most shocking revelations that Mueller shines a light on is that both Fresenius and DaVita provide “shorter and higher-speed dialysis, which enables them to process more patients per day.” Tragically, that speed comes at a cost to patient health. Mueller writes that “In clinics where dialysis is slower and gentler – in high-quality, nonprofit centers in the United States, for example, and in many parts of Europe – patients live better and survive longer…For good medical reasons, in fact, nephrologists [kidney doctors] in other developed countries typically avoid the kind of treatment [endured by patients] in clinics throughout America. Many condemn it as dangerous….”
The death statistics also speak volumes. Mueller writes:
“ ‘The survival rate in the United States, where around 22 percent of patients die every year, is the lowest in the industrialized world,’ says Leonard Stern [a nephrologist]. ‘The mortality in Japan is only 5 to 6 percent per year, and in Western Europe it’s in the range of 9 to 12 percent per year….’ ”
In Mueller’s last book in 2019, Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, he made the formidable case that the United States has become a dystopian society where almost every government entity that a citizen would typically turn to for redress over a lawless act has been corrupted by greed, pay to play, revolving doors, political bribes, or self-dealing.
The fact that a new U.S. President took office in January of 2021 and yet he nominated, and the U.S. Senate confirmed, a former partner of a Big Law firm that defended against some of the worst criminal activities of corporate America, who is now sitting at the helm of the criminal division of the U.S. Department of Justice – should tell you that the corruption crisis in America is metastasizing at an unprecedented rate and urgently requires a truly independent National Crime Taskforce.