John Oliver forgives $15 million in medical debt while making TV history

John Oliver and medical debt collection

Move over Oprah Winfrey there’s a new “queen” of TV giveaways.

HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver made history on Sunday when he forgave $15 million in medical debt. Oliver called the giveaway the “largest one-time giveaway in television history.”

He just about doubled the value of Oprah Winfrey’s famous “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!” giveaway to her entire studio audience in 2004. Oprah spent about $8 million on that giveaway.

In the episode, Oliver sharply rebuked debt purchasers for unscrupulous behavior that is limited by hardly any regulatory oversight.

The segment included a hidden camera brought into a Debt Buyers Association conference by “Last Week Tonight” staffers, which showed panelists appearing to scoff at how Americans don’t understand their legal rights about paying their debts.

Oliver said “Last Week Tonight” spent $50 to create its own debt collection agency, based in Mississippi.

“Any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and I started a debt buying company and it was disturbingly easy,” Oliver said.

Oliver named the company “Central Asset Recovery Professionals,” or CARP, “after a bottom-feeding fish.” He appointed himself chairman of the board.

After setting up a bare-bones website, Oliver said CARP was offered a portfolio of nearly $15 million in medical debt for just $60,000. That’s just pennies on the dollar for a lot of medical debt.

Oliver said CARP could have received a file that included the names, personal addresses and Social Security numbers of nearly 9,000 people who owed the debt it had purchased. He called that fact “absolutely terrifying, because I could legally have CARP take possession of that debt and have employees start calling people turning their lives upside down over medical debt.”

“There would be absolutely nothing wrong with except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that,” Oliver added. “We need much clearer rules and oversight.”

Oliver said the company forgave the debt because “it’s the right thing to do.”

The talk show host then pushed a giant red button which caused streams of confetti, dramatic music and strobe lights, to take over his show.

Oliver transferred the file with the 9,000 debtors’ personal information to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that forgives medical debt with no tax consequences for the debtor.

“it seems to me the least we can do for debt I cannot f—ing believe we’re allowed to own is to give it away,” Oliver said to close his show. “F— you Oprah. I am the new queen of daytime talk!”

Here’s the full segment for your viewing pleasure.