The Department of Justice on Thursday announced an $18.25 million settlement with electronic health records (EHR) technology vendor athenahealth (Athena) for allegedly paying unlawful kickbacks to generate sales of its EHR product.

The details: In the Department of Justice’s complaint, filed Jan. 25 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in conjunction with the settlement, the United States alleged Athena violated the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute through the following three marketing schemes: providing prospective and existing customers free tickets to, and amenities at, sporting, entertainment, and recreational events; paying kickbacks to existing customers under a program designed to identify and refer new prospective clients to Athena; and entering into deals with competing vendors that were discontinuing their EHR technology offerings to refer their clients to Athena.

Under the settlement agreement, Athena has discontinued all three marketing programs.

Compliance failures: According to the complaint, Athena ignored its own written policies, which prohibited the payment of kickbacks and improper business payments or gifts, “including a prohibition on gifts that were lavish, inappropriate, or suspicious, or gifts that were ‘likely or intended to influence a specific decision or deal.’”

“Athenahealth places the highest priority on compliance with all laws and regulations governing our industry,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “… 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.”

Compliance message: “This resolution demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to hold EHR companies accountable for the payment of unlawful kickbacks in any form,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling for the District of Massachusetts further warned, “We will aggressively pursue organizations that fail to play by the rules; EHR companies are no exception.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 1 with a statement from athenahealth.