A TV record once held by Oprah—she spent $8 million during a giveaway in 2004—has been shattered in the name of debt relief. John Oliver, who’s previously minced no words when it comes to many Americans’ life-halting debt crises, gave $14,922,261.76 to nearly 9,000 Texans on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight just to stick it to predatory debt buyers.
Debt, according to Oliver’s astute analysis, is not only “the reason that Nicolas Cage has made so many great choices over the years,” it’s also the reason many Americans—particularly those strapped with debt stemming from overwhelming medical expenses—feel absolutely trapped.
Americans have collectively amassed more than $12 trillion in debt, more than $400 billion of which is 90 or more days overdue. When these debts are charged off by the original creditors, they are often sold—for a fraction of their original value—to decidedly less-than-virtuous debt buyers. “It is pretty clear by now that debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight,” Oliver explained. “As it stands, any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and we started a debt-buying company.”
In true John Oliver fashion, the former Daily Show correspondent decided to get in on that action himself, with a remarkable twist. After buying nearly $15 million of out-of-statute medical debt from Texas, Oliver decided to forgive every last cent. “Clearly, this is only going to help the 9,000 people whose medical debt we bought,” Oliver said. “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.”
Your move, Oprah.