Athenahealth settles kickback allegations for $18M+

Watertown, Mass.-based Athenahealth agreed to pay $18.25 million to settle allegations it violated the False Claims Act by paying illegal kickbacks to sell its EHR products, according to a Jan. 28 Department of Justice news release.

The Department of Justice alleged that Athenahealth violated the FCA and Anti-Kickback statute through three marketing programs. For the first allegation, prosecutors claimed Athenahealth invited prospects and customers to all-expense-paid entertainment events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Masters Tournament, along with free luxury accommodations, meals and alcohol.

In a Jan. 28 statement emailed to Becker's Hospital Review, a spokesperson for Athenahealth said the company "places the highest priority on compliance with all laws and regulations" governing the industry and that its employees provide healthcare services "ethically and with integrity."

"Our dedicated employees work everyday to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high quality, and sustainable healthcare for all … We do so ethically and with integrity — values that are integral to our company's culture," the spokesperson said.

The DOJ also alleges that Athenahealth paid illegal fees of up to $3,000 per physician to those who signed up for its services through the company's "Lead Generation" program, which identifies new prospective customers. Prosecutors also claimed Athenahealth inked "conversion deals" with competing companies that had decided to discontinue their health IT products to then refer their clients to Athenahealth. The EHR vendor then allegedly paid competitors based on the volume and value of practices that successfully converted to its software.

The DOJ claimed that Athenahealth used the kickbacks to improperly generate sales for itself while causing providers to submit false claims to the government for incentive payments for adopting Athenahealth's EHR technology and achieving meaningful use.

"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," the Athenahealth spokesperson said.

The $18.25 million settlement also resolves allegations of Athenahealth's involvement in two whistleblowers lawsuits, according to the news release.

"Across the country, physicians rely on electronic health records software to provide vital patient data. Kickbacks corrupt the market for healthcare services and risk jeopardizing patient safety," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in the news release. "We will aggressively pursue organizations that fail to play by the rules; EHR companies are no exception."


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