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John Oliver buys, then forgives $15 million in medical debt

Debt is a reality for many Tennesseans. And, they are not alone. America, as a whole, owes about $12 trillion. Yes, trillion. A healthy chunk of that amount is medical debt. But, thanks to John Oliver, comedian and host of "Last Week Tonight," there is now $15 million less medical debt.

In the show's most-recent episode, Oliver highlighted that American was heavy in debt and that more than $400 billion of it is seriously delinquent. That delinquency has offered an opportunity that businesses have been excited to take advantage. These businesses specialize in buying delinquent debt -- often at pennies for the dollar -- and then trying to collect a percentage of that debt.

Oliver then joined the fray, incorporating a debt-buying company called Central Asset Recovery Professionals. Not too long after, the company received an offer to buy $15 million in medical debt that was too old to collect under the law. This debt was too old because the statute of limitations had run on collecting the debt. This pool of debt came with a disturbing amount of personal information on almost 9,000 people.

Armed with this information, Oliver chose to do what debt-buying companies do not. Rather than trying to collect from the debtors, he transferred the debt to a nonprofit, which then forgave that debt.

What did it cost Oliver to buy the $15 million in medical debt? Just $60,000 -- a small price to pay to free 9,000 people of worries that they will receive harassing phone calls and threatening voicemails.

Unfortunately, most Tennesseans cannot count on waiting until a celebrity buys their medical debt and forgives it. For these individuals, another option may be to file for bankruptcy. Doing so could be the first step toward a clean financial slate.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "John Oliver makes TV history by forgiving $15 million in medical debt," Meredith Blake, June 6, 2016

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