Just by pressing a button, some 9,000 people stuck with delinquent medical bills had their debts forgiven courtesy of HBO host John Oliver, making it the largest one-time giveaway in TV history — nearly $15 million.
On his “Last Week Tonight” program Sunday, Oliver took on debt buyers and collectors and focused specifically on medical bills. 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.
Oliver’s show engages in a form of investigative comedy. In this particular segment, he examines institutions that often sell their debt for pennies on the dollar to companies who then attempt to collect on the bills. These companies operate with little regulation, and sometimes employ shady and abusive collectors who try to intimidate people into paying.
“People who owe bills should pay them, but they should not be forced to choose between paying medical debts and paying for food and shelter,” he said.
He took the action to illustrate a story about the practices of companies that purchase the records of debtors and attempt to collect on them.
The show set up its own company to acquire $15 million worth of debt owed to hospitals in Texas, paying $60,000.
Oliver added a little show-biz flair, pressing a big red button to symbolize the debt forgiveness, eclipsing the $8 million giveaway by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey when she gave a car to each member of her studio audience one day, making it the biggest ever.
“Are you ready to make television history?” Oliver said. “Let’s do this!”
Within hours of Oliver’s show airing, people were writing to the show to see if their debt was included in what Oliver purchased. “Last Week Tonight” is working with RIPMedicaldebt.org to notify people that their debt has been wiped out, and those affected will be getting letters from the organization within the next few weeks, he said.
It’s amazing that a comedian can do a better job at investigative reporting than the mainstream media.
Watch the video below and please SHARE your thoughts in the comments section below!