Good morning ... Beginning next week, the Monday edition of Vitals will start coming to you from my colleague Caitlin Owens. A lot of you know Caitlin already, so you don't need me to tell you that she'll be great. You're still stuck with me on the other 4 days of the week.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Health care executives gave no indication to bankers and investors at this year's J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that their pricing practices would change any time soon — even as two authors of the famous "It's the prices, stupid" article updated their findings this week to confirm that, yep, it's still the prices.
Axios' Bob Herman wraps up the lay of the land from the conference:
"This is about money and [investors] getting a return."— Stephen Buck, founder of cancer tech app Courage Health
The other side: Marc Harrison, CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, said in an interview that his hospital system has lowered the "cash price" of some services, like normal vaginal childbirth, to help people who have high deductibles.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has some fresh evidence of just how hard it is to be a "smart shopper" for health care.
Details: This one centers around a female patient who needed a breast MRI and knew her insurance wouldn't cover the full cost, so she called the price-estimation hotline maintained by her insurer, UnitedHealthcare.
Why it works this way: Although the patient went to a facility United had recommended, and checked to see whether it was in-network and called about the cost, she didn't know she would have to pay more at an imaging facility that was part of a hospital, which hers was.
The bottom line: The health care system makes it almost impossible to compare prices, much less quality, and make informed consumer decisions.
The Trump administration has requested $631 million above what's in the Senate's Homeland Security spending bill for technology to inspect for drugs, weapons and other contraband at ports of entry along the southwest border, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.
Why it matters: Most opioid seizures occur at legal ports of entry, but only about 20% of vehicles entering the U.S. are inspected. This extra funding would allow for nearly all vehicles coming across the border to be inspected, which would undoubtedly lead to more opioid seizures.
Yes, but: This border security fight is such a mess that it's anyone's guess whether this extra funding is passed, even though everyone agrees it'd help with the opioid crisis.
A cure or an effective treatment for Alzheimer's still seems to be a long way off. But in the meantime, STAT reports, tech companies are coming up with products aimed at family members and caregivers — who often incur an incredible financial and emotional burden.
My thought bubble: This is a lucrative market, given the extreme difficulty of caring for an Alzheimer's patient and the sheer number of people who are in that situation. (Once there is an effective treatment, holy cow is it going to be expensive.)
Utah legislators say they'll implement the Medicaid expansion voters approved in November, but may add work requirements to the program — which could also delay it, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Flashback: Work requirements had been part of the more limited expansion proposed in the state legislature last year, but that plan became moot once voters signed off on the full expansion, per the Tribune.
Meanwhile, Maine has finally started enrolling people in its Medicaid expansion, which voters there approved over a year ago but former Gov. Paul LePage refused to implement.