OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Several hundred Californians who owe medical debts will be getting a big surprise in the coming weeks after an Oakland start-up purchased their debts and forgave them.

Last year, comedian John Oliver called attention to the massive problem of medical debt on his HBO show ‘Last Week Tonight.’

Oliver bought and forgave $15 million worth of medical debt on his show.

Now an Oakland-based start-up is doing it too.

Rachel Norman is the founder of Better, a company that recently purchased more than $1 million of outstanding medical debt and is forgiving every penny.

“The smallest debt that we forgave was $25. All the way to $124,000. The average is about $4,000,” said Norman “The letters are going out now.”

Better’s not just doing it to be nice. It’s also trying to call attention to its own business, helping people file out-of-network health insurance claims.

Recipients of the giveaway were chosen at random.

To pull it off, better joined forces with RIP Medical Debt, a charity that buys up medical debt from doctors, hospitals, and collection agencies and retires it.

“They’re helping us find the debt and notify everyone that their debt has been forgiven,” explained Norman.

A holiday surprise she hopes could inspire others to follow her and Oliver’s lead.

RIP Medical Debt’s website has a place where people can apply to have their medical debts forgiven. It also accepts donations from people who want to help forgive the medical debts others have that are outstanding.

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