Sen. Claire McCaskill says scams and marketing practices might be costing taxpayers $5.4 billion in unnecessary Medicare and Medicaid payments. She’s launched an investigation and a public awareness campaign.

McCaskill credit 2The Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight is looking into reports that medical equipment companies are sending people equipment they don’t need, and then billing Medicaid or Medicare for the costs.

Senator McCaskill grills Dr. Steve Silverman with Med-care diabetic and Medical supplies during a hearing, and says the marketing practices are deceptive and are resulting in the loss of billions of dollars paid by taxpayers. McCaskill says when someone from Silverman’s company calls a patient, especially an elderly person, “Med-care” could easily be heard as “Medicare.”

Silverman tells her his company has never presented itself to be Medicare.

“Why did you name yourself that then?” she says.

She’s working with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to make sure scams are reported. She’s also added a new tool on her website, called “Submit Your Scam.” McCaskill is looking at possible legislation to crack down on aggressive marketing tactics by medical supply companies.

“Wouldn’t it be better if doctors are the ones providing this medical equipment-and if that care isn’t instigated by third parties?” she says. “We’ve got to bring Medicare costs under control and reforms in this industry are one way to do that.”

McCaskill’s office reports that more than 60 percent of approximately $9 billion for medical equipment is estimated to have been paid out erroneously or improperly, adding up to more than $5.4 billion.

Another prong of McCaskill’s crusade to protect consumers is in going after credit companies that are erroneously posting poor credit ratings on some people’s credit history. She says a huge percentage of people are seeing debts pop up on their credit reports that they are not responsible for, something she attributes to a lack of due diligence by companies that fail to make sure they’ve got the right person.

She says a simple social security number check would prevent such errors, which are causing people to sometimes go into financial ruin when it comes to home loans and major financial aspects of their lives. (see video below)

McCaskill has been spending time in Missouri over the past several days while Congress is adjourned, talking to the Attorney General’s Office and prosecutors about consumer protections.

“It’s the Missourians who’ve been targeted by these scam artists-either in emails, or mailings, or cold-calls-who I need to hear from, so I know how best to crack down on scammers and protect consumers,” she says. “I plan to bring the input I get from folks on the ground back to the Senate so we can shine a light on these practices, and rein them in.”