Friday, June 10, 2016

Late-night comedian John Oliver buys nearly $15 million of medical debt--and forgives it

Late-night comedian John Oliver buys nearly $15 million of medical debt--and forgives it

ABA Journal Law News Now
By Martha Neil
Posted Jun 06, 2016 04:22 pm CDT

Late-night comedian John Oliver concluded a scathing review of the U.S. debt-collection industry on Sunday with a nearly $15 million giveaway of old medical debt.

"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 told his audience on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. "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, who blamed what he said is a lack of effective regulation of the collection industry for abusive practices described on his program, said he and the show spent $50 to create a Mississippi-based debt-collection agency. Soon, they were offered a chance to purchase, legally, $14,922,261.76 in unpaid medical bills.

As the show explains, such debt may be passed from collector to collector, at lower and lower prices. Oliver said his team paid less than $60,000 to acquire the nearly $15 million in debt, according to CNN Money and USA Today.

Oliver then told the audience the debt would be forgiven, and the show is passing it on to a nonprofit that specializes in doing so.

In addition to aiding the debtors, the debt-forgiveness stunt—featuring huge dollar signs, a huge red button and confetti—helped HBO and Oliver. Because of the amount at issue, the comedian said, he has now topped an $8 million car giveaway to audience members during an Oprah show in 2004.

"I am the new queen of daytime talk!" Oliver told his audience.

Slate senior business and economics correspondent Jordan Weissmann quibbled with the value of the debt Oliver purchased. Oliver said the paper it purchased was "out-of-statute," Weissman said, which means it was so old it could no longer legally be collected.

The chances that Oliver’s debt-collection agency’s paper "was worth a lot more than $60,000 are fairly slim," Weissmann wrote. "With that all said, John Oliver likely just saved a whole lot of people some harassing phone calls and potential lawsuits. It was a wonderful gesture. He just didn’t really one-up Oprah." Read online

Also see Slate Academy’s The United States of Debt

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