In the two years since it premiered, Last Week Tonight has enacted enough real-life changes from host John Oliver’s segments for Time to note a “John Oliver effect.” And while Oliver may brush off the idea, the effect is very real for 9,000 people deep in medical debt.
Prior to Sunday night’s episode, Oliver revealed that it would be longer than usual and that “it’s worth watching to the end to see why.”
Tonight at 11 @LastWeekTonight is back! The show will be five minutes longer, and it's worth watching to the end to see why…— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 6, 2016
In the nearly 21-minute segment, Oliver explained the ins and outs of the broken and corrupt debt-collecting industry. People often fall into debt of no fault of their own, their information is often sold for pennies on the dollar, and collectors often harass them (and others in their lives) to pay it—even if the debt was already paid. They’re sometimes sued and taken advantage of because they don’t understand the legalese involved, and some in the industry don’t seem very interested in informing people of their rights. There’s a reason it receives more complaints than any other industry, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
And it’s incredibly easy to get into the business.
“It is pretty clear by now debt buying is a grimy business, and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it,” Oliver said. “And I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot, and we started a debt-buying company. And it was disturbingly easy.”
Oliver set up a barebones company and called it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP. “After the bottom-feeding fish,” Oliver noted. CARP purchased nearly $15 million in medical debt for under $60,000, and then he forgave it all in what he believed was the “largest one-time giveaway in television show history.” At $15 million, it’s nearly doubled what Oprah Winfrey gave away to fans with those cars.
As he said before shouting “Fuck you, Oprah,” it’s the least he can do.