HHS taps former CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield executive as senior drug pricing adviser

HHS has tapped a new senior adviser for its drug pricing initiatives. (Sarah Stierch/CC BY 4.0)

The Department of Health and Human Services has named a new adviser to oversee its drug pricing initiatives. 

John O’Brien, a pharmacist and adviser to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on health reform and drug pricing policy, was named senior adviser for drug pricing reform, HHS announced. He joined HHS after serving as vice president of public policy at CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield. 

O’Brien also has a prior stint at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on his resume, HHS said. 

“John O’Brien has already been an integral leader in HHS’ efforts to bring down the high price of prescription drugs,” Azar said. “As a senior adviser, he will carry forward the legacy of our departed colleague Dan Best and build on the substantial progress that has already been made.” 

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Best, who was tapped to lead the drug pricing policy efforts earlier this year, died last month

Since the administration’s drug pricing blueprint was unveiled in May, it has undertaken a slew of policies aimed at bringing down the cost of drugs. HHS has proposed changes in Medicare Part B and Part D, and is looking to force drug companies to put list prices of medications in their direct-to-consumer advertising

O’Brien hit the ground running in his new role, and published a blog post on one of the agency’s more controversial plans, the International Pricing Index model, which aims to align the costs of drugs in Part B with the prices paid in other countries. 

The plan also seeks to adjust the fees physicians earn on Part B drugs, and is likely to face provider pushback, particularly from specialty practices like oncology. 

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In the blog post, O’Brien said that the goal of the policy is to take on a “crazy system” that lacks meaningful competition and encourages foreign free-loading. 

The IPI model wouldn’t stymie pharmaceutical innovation, as drug companies have suggested, and wouldn’t target programs that are already working in the market-based approach backed by the administration, O’Brien said. 

The demonstration “provides drug companies with a valid reason to walk away from the negotiating table when other countries demand low prices subsidized by American seniors,” he wrote. “The socialist systems two whom drug companies are giving better deals simply do not have monopoly power when compared to the importance of participating in the Medicare program.”