John Oliver buys, then forgives $15M in medical debt on 'Last Week Tonight'

Move over, Oprah Winfrey.
John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," apparently bought, then forgave nearly $15 million in medical debt in what he called "the largest one-time giveaway in television show history." 

On Sunday's show, Oliver addressed the debt-buying industry and "zombie debt," or "debt that was believed to be settled and buried but comes back to life for collection," according to Time.

"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," Oliver said.

The Consumerist reports that debt-collection agencies can buy this debt for pennies on the dollar and make their money by getting just a few debtors to pay. Seventeen states don't even require licenses for debt collection, the website says.

“It is pretty clear by now that debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight," Oliver said. "As it stands, any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and we started a debt-buying company – and it was disturbingly easy.”
Soon after Oliver's team registered a debt-collection firm called Central Asset Recovery Professionals (CARP, "after the bottom-feeding fish") in Mississippi, they were "offered a portfolio of nearly $15 million of out-of-statute medical debt" for $60,000, Oliver said. So they snapped it up.
"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 said.

Instead, he had the portfolio sent to a nonprofit that forgives medical debt.

“Clearly, this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought," Oliver said. "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."

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