John Oliver forgives $15 million in medical debt, shattering previous TV giveaway record

John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight” forgave $15 million in medical debt Sunday night.
John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight” forgave $15 million in medical debt Sunday night.

There are about 9,000 people who should be very grateful to John Oliver Monday morning.

Oliver, host of HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” delivered a 20-minute segment lambasting the debt-collecting industry and politicians who have chosen to keep it largely deregulated. Then he forgave $15 million in medical debt owed by 9,000 people.

Oliver quoted real debt collectors, one who threatened to arrest and eat a debtor’s dog and another who said it was his “favorite thing” to find out a debtor’s boss’s home phone number and then call it repeatedly to get money owed.

“It is pretty clear by now 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.”

Oliver said his show spent $50 to set up a debt-collection agency called Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, “after the bottom-feeding fish.”

They then bought nearly $15 million in medical debt from Texas for $60,000. For that amount, Oliver’s show got access to 9,000 people’s personal information, including names, home addresses and social security numbers.

Oliver then announced he would be forgiving the entirety of the debt, which would make it the largest TV-giveaway in history. He nearly doubled the previous record, when Oprah Winfrey gave 276 members of her audience a free car, for a total value of just under $8 million.

“Now, 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 proper oversight to protect consumers from potentially predatory companies, like the one we set up.”

“You are about to watch me give away $15 million,” Oliver said, slamming his hand on a big red button, as money rained down and the studio audience cheered.

Watch the video below, but be aware it contains explicit language.