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Analysis

Azar Names New Drug Pricing Advisor Following Predecessor's Death

By John Commins  
   December 06, 2018

John O'Brien, a pharmacist with experience in the private sector and government, will serve as HHS' point man on drug pricing policy. He replaces Dan Best, who died unexpectedly last month.

Pharmacist and veteran drug policy expert John O'Brien has been named Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Thursday.

O'Brien replaces Dan Best, who died unexpectedly last month.

Previously, O'Brien was Azar's advisor for health reform and drug pricing, and deputy assistant secretary for health policy in HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

"John O'Brien has already been an integral leader in HHS's efforts to bring down the high price of prescription drugs," Azar said in a media release.

"As a senior advisor, he will carry forward the legacy of our departed colleague Dan Best and build on the substantial progress that has already been made. John will continue to play an important role in our overall efforts to deliver Americans better, more affordable healthcare," Azar said.

Before joining HHS, O'Brien, was vice president of public policy for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. He has also worked at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Notre Dame of Maryland University College of Pharmacy, and other pharmaceutical organizations.

O'Brien has a master's degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a doctor of pharmacy degree from Nova Southeastern University, and studied pharmacy and public policy at the University of Florida.

Addressing rising drug prices has been a key issue for the Trump Administration, and Congress, and it is expected to gain even more attention over the next two years in the run-up to the 2020 election.

In the past few months, Azar has promised "disruptive change."

The former president of Eli Lilly & Co., Azar has floated a number of proposals, including: allowing Medicare Part D plans greater leeway to decline to cover certain protected-class drugs beginning in 2020; eliminating drug rebates; mandatory transparency in drug pricing; and linking Medicare Part B drug prices to an international index.

Although Azar has touting an aggressive agenda on drug pricing, he hasn't acted on it, and observers note he is careful not to get too far in front of President Donald Trump.

At this point, it's not clear if HHS will act on these initiatives or if they're merely well-vetted window dressing.

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

O'Brien's post takes the lead role on an issue that is expected to get a lot of attention in the next two years.

Azar has called for 'disruptive change' in U.S. drug pricing, mandatory price transparency.

Controversial proposals on drug pricing include linking Medicare Part B drug prices to an international index.


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