29 January 2021.

Electronic health records (EHR) provider Athena has agreed to pay $18.25 million to settle claims the company was involved in an illegal kickback scheme to generate sales of its EHR product, athenaClinicals, the Justice Department announced.

Athenahealth is a leading vendor of EHR products with regional offices in Watertown, Massachusetts, Belfast, Maine, Atlanta, Georgia, Austin, Texas, Burlington, Vermont, Seattle, Washington, Princeton, New Jersey, and international operations in Chennai, Bangalore, and Pune, India.

Athena paid kickbacks in several ways. First, Athena invited prospective and existing customers to “Concierge Events,” providing free tickets to and amenities at sporting, entertainment, and recreational events, including trips to the Masters Tournament and the Kentucky Derby with complimentary travel and luxury accommodations, meals, and alcohol.

Second, Athena paid kickbacks to its existing customers under a “Lead Generation” program designed to identify and refer new prospective clients to Athena. Athena paid up to $3,000 to existing customers for each new client that signed up for Athena services.

Third, Athena entered into deals with competing vendors that were discontinuing their EHR technology offerings to refer their clients to Athena. Under such deals, Athena paid remuneration to the competitor based on the value and volume of practices that were successfully converted into Athena clients.

Athenahealth EMR Software is expensive with license starting at $140 per provider, per month. This means that a practice of 5 physicians would pay $700 per month, minimum ($8400 annually).

The settlement resolves allegations in a lawsuit filed by Geordie Sanborn and a separate lawsuit filed by Cheryl Lovell and William McKusick, that are pending in federal court in Boston. The lawsuits were filed under the whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The Act allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in these two cases. The whistleblower share to be awarded in connection with the settlement has not been determined.

Source: Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs.