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A national electronic health records (EHR) technology vendor, athenahealth Inc., has agreed to pay $18.25 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by paying unlawful kickbacks to generate sales of its EHR product, athenaClinicals.

In a complaint filed in conjunction with this settlement, the United States alleged that Athena violated the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute through three marketing programs.

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. Under this program, Athena paid up to $3,000 to existing customers for each new client that signed up for Athena services, regardless of how much time, if any, the existing customer spent speaking to or meeting with the new client.

Finally, 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.

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 R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “Today’s agreement by Athena to pay $18.25 million should send a strong message to anyone thinking about engaging in this type of illegal activity. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to do everything in our power to safeguard our government health care programs and the taxpayers picking up the bill.”

The settlement resolves allegations in a lawsuit filed by Geordie Sanborn and a separate lawsuit filed by Cheryl Lovell and William McKusick; both matters are pending in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts. The lawsuits were filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit 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.

This matter is being handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch (Fraud Section) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General; and the U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General.

The two lawsuits are captioned United States ex rel. Sanborn. v. athenahealth, Inc., No. 17-cv-12125 (D. Mass.) and United States ex rel. Lovell and McKusick v. athenahealth, Inc., No. 17-cv-12543 (D. Mass.). The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.