It’s not quite Oprah yelling ‘You get a car! You get a car!’ It’s better.
Just by pressing a button, John Oliver made the largest one-time giveaway in TV history — nearly $15 million.
All GIFs from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
The money went to nearly 9,000 individuals, and while they won’t be receiving a check or a fancy car, their lives will be getting so much easier thanks to Oliver and his team at “Last Week Tonight.”
During his segment on debt buyers and collectors, Oliver focused on a specific kind of delinquency: medical bills.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2012 nearly 1 in 6 families in the U.S. has struggled paying their outstanding medical bills; 1 in 10 families weren’t able to pay bills at all.
That’s billions of dollars worth of debt from millions of people.
The fact that medical bills are a typically unexpected expense makes that particular form of debt ripe for a very opportunistic and surprisingly unregulated industry: debt collectors.
Here’s how debt buyers and collectors work.
It starts with a debt. One of the examples Oliver used was the case of a man who was hospitalized for four days with respiratory issues, later finding out that his insurance wouldn’t cover the cost. This left him with $80,000 worth of debt he had no way of paying.
If the debt goes unpaid, the hospital might sell the rights to collect on it to a third party (a debt buyer), and then they can go about trying to collect it.
The problem here is that there’s very little documentation that goes along with the sold debt, making it hard to prove who owns it and whether or not it’s been paid off. While there is a statute of limitations on debt collection, debt buyers bank on the fact that the average consumer doesn’t know that and will continue to try to collect — some with less than friendly tactics.
Basically, it’s a big, stressful, anxiety-inducing mess for the person at the center of it all.
To prove just how easy it is to get into the debt-buying business, “Last Week Tonight” started their own collection agency.
After paying $50 to start their own agency, with Oliver listed as the chairman of the board, the “Last Week Tonight” team was offered the opportunity to buy nearly $15 million in medical debt from a group in Texas. The price? A little less than $60,000.
In exchange, Oliver was given a spreadsheet with thousands of names, phone numbers, social security numbers, and debt amounts. If they wanted to, the “Last Week Tonight” agency could have set about trying to collect on the nearly $15 million.
But they didn’t.
Oprah’s famous car giveaway was valued at around $7 million. Oliver nearly doubled that.
And unlike Oprah’s car giveaway, there won’t be any adverse tax consequences for the people whose debt has just been forgiven.
So. Freakin. Cool. Right?
You can learn more about credit buyers by watching the video from “Last Week Tonight,” posted below.