The 20-minute “Debt Buying” segment originated June 5, 2016, on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
NEW YORK — A June 5 segment of the HBO hit comedy series, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, featured the RIP Medical Debt charity forgiving nearly $15 million worth of donated medical debt for around 9,000 people — a new giveaway record for American television. John Oliver brought attention to debt industry abuses and the specific issue of unpaid medical debt.
John Oliver reported that American households collectively owe more than $12 trillion in debt, with $436 billion at least 90 days overdue. He presented LWT’s investigation of the debt buying industry, airing video from a hidden camera at a professional conference. A debt buyer on the platform observed how debtors are ignorant of their rights as consumers.
Oliver set out to show how “disturbingly easy” it is to start a company that can purchase debt cheaply and collect it aggressively, including debt no longer due under law. LWT registered a debt-buying company in Mississippi for $50, naming John Oliver as the Chairman of the Board, calling the company Central Asset Recovery Professionals, Inc. — CARP, the bottom-feeding fish.
CARP located and purchased from Texas for about $60,000 a medical debt portfolio worth $14,922,261.76 — paying less than a half-cent on the dollar. Oliver said the portfolio held the names, current addresses and Social Security numbers for about 9.000 accounts. CARP could legally send collection agents to hound these people. Oliver and LWT instead donated that $14.9 million portfolio to the debt-forgiving charity, RIP Medical Debt.
In the finale, John Oliver stood before a wildly cheering live studio audience with millions watching on TV and online. Amid a triumphant fanfare he grandly pushed a giant red button. Dazzling lights flashed as paper bills fluttered down like confetti. John Oliver through RIP instantly abolished nearly $15 million in unpaid medical debt. Gone. For good.
John Oliver’s giveaway surpassed Oprah Winfrey’s 2004 TV record of giving almost $8 million worth of GM cars to everybody in her audience, creating the iconic “You get a car!” meme. RIP’s forgiveness of NWT’s “$15 million” worth of medical debt set a new record for television.
“This is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought,” Oliver remarked at the outset of the blowoff. “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.”
RIP Medical Debt board member Robert Goff blogged that RIP deeply appreciates national awareness of medical debt. “We are grateful for an opportunity to be involved with a comedian who wanted to give 9,000 people the last laugh.”
Major Press Coverage
John Oliver’s $15 Million Debt Giveaway
“John Oliver, the comedian and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, dove into an investigation Sunday on how easy it is for predatory companies to purchase peoples’ debt from a bank and hold it over their heads. To demonstrate how easy it was, Oliver bought $15 million of medical debt for pennies on the dollar, and then announced he’d forgive it all.”
The Boston Globe
John Oliver forgives $15 million in medical debt
“If you didn’t already have an intellectual crush on John Oliver, the goofy Brit with the biting wit, Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight” might have left you no choice. In what he called “the largest one-time giveaway in television show history,” he forgave some $15 million in medical debt for some 9,000 Texans.”
John Oliver Made TV History By Forgiving Nearly $15 Million In Medical Debt
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver made TV history on Sunday when it forgave roughly $15 million in medical debt to demonstrate the minimal oversight of the country’s debt-buying industry.”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
John Oliver and Charity Team to Undo Millions in Medical Debt
“Comedian John Oliver has partnered with nonprofit group RIP Medical Debt to buy up and forgive nearly $15 million owed by patients for hospital treatment.”
John Oliver takes a bite out of medical debt, but for 43 million it still hurts
“Medical debt just got less painful for nearly 9,000 consumers, courtesy of late-night TV host John Oliver. For nearly 43 million other Americans, it’s still a big problem.”
John Oliver makes ‘TV history’ by forgiving $15 million in medical debt
“With the tap of a giant red button, streams of confetti, dramatic music and strobe lights, 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.”
The Daily News
John Oliver tackles debt industry, forgives $15 million of money owed in largest TV giveaway ever
“This week, comedian John Oliver tackled the issue of debt collection in a typically biting-yet-hilarious segment that ended with an atypical $15 million gift.”
John Oliver stages ‘largest one-time giveaway’ on TV by forgiving $15M in debt
“Oprah’s got nothing on John Oliver. The late-night TV host staged the ‘largest one-time giveaway in television history’ on Sunday when he forgave nearly $15 million in debt belonging to 9,000 Americans.”
John Oliver buys and forgives $15m worth of medical debt
“Host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight outdoes Oprah with announcement at end of a segment on debt collectors that he has forgiven the debt of 9,000 people.”
John Oliver Makes TV History After Buying $16M Of Your Medical Debt
“American households currently owe more than $12 trillion in debt, which has given rise to an entire debt-buying industry.”
Los Angeles Times
John Oliver makes TV history by forgiving $15 million in medical debt
“Move over, Oprah, John Oliver just stole your thunder. On Sunday’s episode of ‘Last Week Tonight,’ the comedian staged what may be the largest giveaway in TV history by forgiving some $15 million in medical debt.”
John Oliver just bought $15 million in medical debt for $60000 and forgave it all
“Medical debt affects many people’s lives. And repaying what you owe can get more complex and stressful when that debt gets sent to collections. On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver tackled the issue of medical debt in an unexpected way.”
The New York Times
For His Latest Trick, John Oliver Forgives $15 Million in Medical Debt
“Would you rather spend 20 minutes reading about the hazards of predatory debt collection, or would you rather spend 20 minutes watching someone forgive millions of dollars in debt, complete with a giveaway that professed to put Oprah Winfrey’s famous “You Get a Car!” gimmick to shame?”
How John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight” Is Using Stunts to Tell Stories
“It’s strange to describe the apparent purchase and forgiveness of nearly $15 million in medical debt as “impish,” but bear with me.
John Oliver Just Gave Away Nearly $15 Million (by Forgiving Medical Debt in Texas) — ‘On Sunday night John Oliver staged what he described as “the largest one-time giveaway in television show history,” giving $14,922,261.76 to nearly 9,000 lucky Texans.”
John Oliver buys and forgives $15 million of US medical debt. — “Some 9,000 people stuck with delinquent medical bills had their debts forgiven courtesy of British HBO host John Oliver.”
3 Things to Know About John Oliver’s Debt Collectors Takedown
“To top off the segment, Oliver explained how the show created its own debt collection company known as Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP — after the bottom-feeding fish — and spent about $60,000 to acquire $15 million worth of debt for less than a penny on the dollar. Rather than trying to collect, Oliver partnered with the non-profit RIP Medical Debt to forgive it.”
Watch John Oliver Forgive $15 Million in Debt
“‘Last Week Tonight’ host trumped Oprah with giveaway during segment about horrors of debt-buying industry.”
John Oliver Buys, Forgives $15 Million In Medical Debt
“Step aside, Oprah. John Oliver made giveaway history on Sunday, June 5. The Last Week Tonight host relieved 9,000 people of $15 million in medical debt. The move was an attempt to shed light on shady debt collectors who take advantage of customers.”
“John Oliver is known for demystifying complicated issues to get his “Last Week Tonight” audience riled up…. But Oliver did more than educate last night.”
John Oliver Buys $15M In Medical Debt, Then Forgives It
John Oliver Buys And Forgives $15 Million In Medical Debt: But Is The Forgiveness Taxable? [No: RIP is a charity.]
Good News Network
John Oliver Buys $15 Million In Medical Debt, Then Forgives It on TV.
The Tax Consequences Of John Oliver’s Forgiveness Of $15 Million Of Medical Debt [None: RIP is a charity.]
About RIP Medical Debt
RIP Medical Debt locates, buys and forgives medical debt on behalf of individual donors, philanthropists and organizations who step up to provide financial relief for individuals and families burdened by unpaid and unpayable medical bills.
Two former collections industry executives, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, incorporated RIP on July 25, 2014, as Medical Debt Resolution, Inc., a New York-based not-for-profit doing business as RIP Medical Debt, recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charity.