John Oliver forgives $15 million in medical debt in takedown of debt-collection industry

John Oliver forgave nearly $15 million in medical debt during this week’s Last Week Tonight segment on debt collection. Oliver spent 20 minutes discussing the shady world of debt before proving just how easy it is to create a debt collection company, buy up a bunch of debt, then go after those who owe the money.

So, Oliver created a company called CARP, “after the bottom-feeding fish,” then bought $14,922261.76 in medical debt for less than $60,000. But instead of going after the debtors like a sleazy loan shark, Oliver decided to perform what seems to be the largest giveaway in television history—beating Oprah’s $8 million car giveaway—by transferring the debt directly to RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit that specializes in forgiving medical debt.

“It was disturbingly easy,” Oliver says in the clip above about how simple it is to establish a company and buy up debt.

The debt Oliver bought had passed the statue of limitations, but by buying the debt, CARP received names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of thousands of debtors.

“We bought it, which is absolutely terrifying, because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside-down over medical debt they no longer had to pay,” Oliver explains. “There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that.”

“Are you ready to make television history?” Oliver asks, before moving to a giant button on the stage. “Clearly, this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought. The larger issue is, we need much clearer rules and tougher oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies like the one we set up. But in the meantime, it seems the least we can do with this debt that I cannot f—king believe we are allowed to own is to give it away.”

“I am the new queen of daytime talk!”

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