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John Oliver Just Made Television History By Forgiving $15 Million in Medical Debt

By Emily Chambers | Last Week Tonight | June 6, 2016 |


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When I read that John Oliver’s main topic on last night’s show was debt, I got a little queasy. Because I’ve got debt. Seemingly a lot of it. It’s all current and it’s something I’m actively tackling, but it’s there. It’s student loans, a car loan, some credit card debt, and it accounts for the majority of my monthly expenses. This makes me feel bad. But nothing about my story makes me feel as bad as everything about this story. At least until the very end.

And just a few of things:

1) Forget the Pajiba 10, I think Oliver just secured his sainthood. John Oliver purchased $15 million in medical debt for pennies on the dollar, and instead of using it to harass those who owed the money, he forgave the debt.

“So, we bought it, which is absolutely terrifying,” admits Oliver. “Because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt they no longer had to pay. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that.”

Despite the ACA’s help, medical bills are still the main reason people declare bankruptcy, meaning Oliver and his show just single-handedly deterred 9,000 possible bankruptcies of people who got into money trouble because they “wanted to live.” Also a quick check of that list shows that of the top ten reasons, two can be attributed to poor spending habits. Meaning most of the time people have to file for bankruptcy, the reason is “life fucked me over.”

2) Wait, did he say 9,000 debtors? For $15 million? I know that the actual math works out to only $1,600 or so per person, but doesn’t it seem like the number of people should be much, much higher?

3) Second wait, why is this an industry at all? Would any reasonable person look at this business model and not think it will be filled with corruption? Using that purchase price ($.005 on the dollar), you could pay $10 and theoretically make $2,500. You know who’s really interested in making that kind of money just by harassing people who can’t pay their medical bills? The same people who would threaten to eat your fucking dog, that’s who.

4) Excel spreadsheets forever, Oliver. You don’t know what you’re missing.


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