Imagine if you had thousands of dollars in medical debt and a perfect stranger paid it off for you — no strings attached.
HBO’s John Oliver did just that, legally purchasing nearly $15 million in outstanding and overdue medical debt. And then he forgave it all. The debt involved 9,000 debtors. (See video below.)
The Last Week Tonight host dedicated Sunday’s episode to taking down the debt-purchasing industry, and its often unscrupulous methods of getting people to pay off their debt, regardless of the circumstances that got them into debt. The collection companies legalling purchase debt packages that are heavily discounted — sometimes for pennies on the dollar.
How did Oliver go about it purchasing and then forgiving this debt?
Oliver started his own company “Central Asset Recovery Professionals,” or CARP, “after a bottom-feeding fish.” He appointed himself chairman of the board.
He then legally purchased the $14,922,261.76 in outstanding and overdue medical debt for less than $60,000. Oliver and Last Week Tonight partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that helps forgive medical debt with no tax consequences.
Oliver took these steps as part of a broader assault on the debt-collecting industry.
“It is pretty clear by now (that) debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it,” Oliver said. “And I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot, and we started a debt-buying company. And it was disturbingly easy.”
In April, Oliver and his team spent just $50 to start the company. “We called it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish.”
Oliver boasted of his good deed, calling the gesture the “largest one-time giveaway in television history.” He achieved this by doubling the value of Oprah Winfrey’s famous “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” giveaway to her studio audience in 2004. Oprah gave away $8 million in cars.