John Oliver one-ups Oprah by forgiving US$15m medical debt

3 minute read

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver has made television history by forgiving the medical debt of 9,000 people


Last Week Tonight host John Oliver has made television history by forgiving the medical debt of 9,000 people

Mr Oliver made the announcement at the end of a 20-minute segment on predatory debt buying and collection on Sunday.

After establishing a debt-acquisition firm for a US$50 fee and a website with just a logo, Mr Oliver and his team purchased almost US$15 million worth of out-of-statute medical debt from Texas at a bargain price of less than US$60,000.

“It was disturbingly easy […] which is absolutely terrifying,” said Mr Oliver.

“Because it means if I wanted to, I could legally […] 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. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that.”

So instead of taking possession of the debt, Mr Oliver’s company sent it to RIP Medical Debt, which specialises in forgiving medical debt.

The US$15 million “giveaway” rivals that of Oprah Winfrey, who gave all 276 studio audience members a Pontiac G6 sedan worth nearly US$8 million on in 2004.

At the end of the segment, Mr Oliver presses a giant red button on stage, while yelling “F**K YOU, OPRAH”, as money falls from the ceiling.

During the show, Mr Oliver called into question the sale and aggressive collection of debt, much of which is so overdue that it is ‘out-of-statute’ and no longer owed. US households currently have more than US$12 trillion of debt — US$436 billion of which is more than 90 days delinquent.

This so-called ‘zombie-debt’ is traded with little oversight and regulation, according to Mr Oliver.

He said the zombie metaphor was “quite apt, because just like on The Walking Dead, zombie debt comes back from the grave, is incredibly hard to deal with, and seems to disproportionately impact minorities.”

Debt portfolios often consist of nothing more than a spreadsheet with lists of names, addresses and security numbers, he said.

The segment detailed instances of collecting companies resorting to threats and harassment to extract profits.

“It is pretty clear by now that debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight,” said Mr Oliver.

“There are places in this country where you need to fill out less paperwork to start collecting money from people’s pockets than you do to collect fish from a f**king lake.”

Debt BuyersCompanies that purchase debt cheaply then collect it aggressively are shockingly easy to start. We can prove it!

Posted by Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sunday, 5 June 2016

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