John Oliver: EMS 'should absolutely be an essential service'

HBO host uses biting humor to explain “wildly different” EMS systems, surprise billing and poor pay for EMS providers

By Greg Friese

NEW YORK — John Oliver, the host of the HBO series, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” using a mix of comedy, indignation and facts, called for EMS to have a lead federal agency and be labeled an essential service.  

The former “The Daily Show with John Stewart” correspondent attempted to explain EMS to viewers by answering these questions, “how they function, why they can be so expensive, and what we can do to fix them” during a 21-minute August 1 segment.  

“The first thing to know is there is no consistency in emergency medical services. You are actually talking about 19,000 EMS locally run EMS providers with wildly different structures.”  

Oliver, using the common industry quip, told viewers, “If you’ve seen one EMS setup, you’ve seen exactly one EMS setup.”  

Oliver, shocked to learn that EMS is not an essential service in 39 states, said, “Pointing out that EMS is not deemed essential is like finding out that most states don’t consider geese to be birds,” Oliver said.  

Oliver concluded the show by calling on EMS to be an essential service in all 50 states and to have a dedicated lead federal agency. 

“As for EMS providers, we should establish a lead federal agency dedicated to them and they should absolutely be labeled an essential service, especially because everyone thinks that’s what they are.” 

The segment also discussed private equity purchases of EMS services, surprise billing, citizens who use Uber instead of the ambulance, a lead federal agency for EMS and funding for EMS. 


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