Companies prey on people drowning in medical debt

Earlier this month, on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight," comedian John Oliver tackled the issue of medical debt that is overwhelming more than 40 million Americans and, in some cases, forcing them into bankruptcy. Oliver put his money where his mouth is by buying nearly $15 million dollars worth of medical debt owed by nearly 9,000 people.

The "Last Week Tonight" team shed light on the world of medical debt by the way they did this. They set up a company in Mississippi called Central Asset Recovery Professionals for just $50. The acronym is, of course, CARP, "after the bottom-feeding fish," as Oliver explained. They bought the nearly $15 million in debt for under $60,000. The show donated the money it made to a non-profit organization called RIP Medical Debt, which helps people wipe out medical debt.

Of course, Oliver's gesture, while calling attention to the problem of medical debt in this country and those who seek to make a profit from that debt, helps only a fraction of people with medical bills they simply can't pay. The British comedian acknowledged that, saying, "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."

These debt buyers buy delinquent debt for literally pennies on the dollar and then take on the collection process themselves, including harassing phone calls to those who owe money. Further, as Oliver pointed out, virtually anyone can purchase this debt and collect on it.

The good news is that, beginning this fall, those people with medical debt will have a six-month grace period before it appears on their credit report. Settled medical debts are also supposed to be removed from consumers' credit reports. If you're facing overwhelming medical debt, an experienced Arizona bankruptcy attorney can help you work to get out from under it.

Source: CNBC, "John Oliver takes a $14M bite out of medical debt," Kelli B. Grant, June 06, 2016

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