Electronic health record (EHR) company athenahealth will pay $18.25 million to settle charges that it paid illegal kickbacks to sell its products, the Department of Justice announced.
The DOJ alleged that athenahealth violated the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute in three marketing programs aimed at generating sales for its EHR product athenaClinicals.
First, the company invited prospective and existing customers to sporting and entertainment events like the Kentucky Derby and the Masters Tournament, doling out free travel and luxury accommodations, meals, and alcohol, the department said. The firm agreed to the settlement without admitting guilt.
“It is illegal for companies to extend invitations to all-expense-paid sporting, entertainment, and recreational events, and other perk-filled offers to its prospective customers to win business and boost their bottom line through illegal kickback schemes,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Boston division. Athenahealth is based in Watertown, Massachusetts.
DOJ also charged that the company paid illegal fees via its Lead Generation program to identify and refer new clients to Athena. The company handed out up to $3,000 per physician who signed up for its services after being referred by an existing customer, “regardless of how much time, if any, the existing customer spent speaking to or meeting with the new client,” the agency said.
Finally, the EHR vendor allegedly made “conversion deals” with competing companies who were discontinuing their EHR technology to refer clients to athenahealth. Under these deals, athenahealth paid the competitor based on the value and volume of practices that became its own clients, DOJ said.
“EHR technology plays an important role in the provision of medical care, and it is critical that the selection of an EHR platform be made without the influence of improper financial inducements,” Brian Boynton, of the DOJ’s civil division, said in the department’s release.
“If the benefits of Electronic Health Records are to be fully realized, patients must be confident providers have selected the most effective system – not the one paying the largest kickbacks,” Phillip Coyne, of the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, said in the release. “Time and again, we’ve seen fraudulent activity undermine the integrity of medical decisions, subvert the health marketplace, and waste taxpayer dollars.”
The settlement also resolves allegations put forth in two whistleblower lawsuits, one filed by Geordie Sanborn, and another filed by Cheryl Lovell and William McKusick. Both are pending in federal court in Boston.
The whistleblower share to be awarded in this case hasn’t yet been determined, DOJ said.
In a statement to MedPage Today, athenahealth said it “places the highest priority on compliance with all laws and regulations governing our industry.”
“While we have full confidence in our robust compliance policies and programs, we agreed to this settlement — under which we admit no wrongdoing — to put this matter behind us and move forward with our critical work on behalf of patients and healthcare providers.”
Last Updated February 02, 2021