John Oliver forgives $15 million of medical debt in ‘largest one-time giveaway in TV show history’

Oprah's got nothing on the HBO host.

John Oliver on HBO's Last Week Tonight.
–HBO

Move over, Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Get in line, Oprah Winfrey. HBO host John Oliver capped off another informative segment of Last Week Tonight with a gift that he claims dwarfs any other one-time TV show giveaway: he forgave almost $15 million worth of medical debt.

Sunday’s episode of LWT centered around the debt buying and collecting industry, in which banks and other companies sell consumer debts at a fraction of the amount owed to companies that then attempt to collect the debt very aggressively.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, debt collectors generate more complaints to their office than any other industry, and while many debt collectors operate within the law, others resort to intimidation and harassment in pursuit of payment.

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“Look, 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.”

In April, Oliver and his team spent $50 to incorporate an online debt buying agency in Mississippi called Central Asset Recovery Professionals (CARP), “named after the bottom-feeding fish,” according to the host. With little more than a website, they received an invitation to buy almost $15 million in medical debt in the state of Texas for less than half a cent on the dollar — a little less than $60,000 in total.

Instead of using the names and contact information they purchased to hound debtors for payment, Oliver forgave the debt, essentially “giving away” $15 million in one fell swoop. While debt forgiveness isn’t quite as exciting as Oprah giving 276 studio audience members brand new cars worth $28,500 each—for a total giveaway cash value of $7.866 million—Oliver still celebrated the moment with almost as much energy.

Watch the full segment below.

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