John O'Brien, chief adviser to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on drug-pricing reform, is leaving the Trump administration as the congressional debate over legislation is poised to intensify.
O'Brien stepped up to the post last December, not long after his predecessor Dan Best died last year. He had already served with Azar as an adviser and helped with the Trump administration's drug-pricing strategy. His last day is Aug. 22.
"Prices and out-of-pocket costs are lower, and will go lower still, because of the work we did to execute on President Trump's American Patients First blueprint," Azar said in a statement. "John was one of the key architects of that blueprint, he was one of the key leaders in its execution, and we are grateful for his service."
John Brooks, principal deputy director of the Center for Medicare, will "expand his current responsibilities to serve as senior advisor for drug-pricing reform," the HHS statement said.
O'Brien's exit comes as the fate of the administration's boldest efforts on drug pricing appears murky. It's unclear whether the sweeping bipartisan reforms on Medicare Parts B and D and Medicaid will make it through the GOP-led Senate, despite White House backing.
The pharmaceutical industry is lobbying hard against the policies.
HHS also gave up its proposed rule to eliminate pharmacy benefit manager rebates in Part D and a judge struck down the administration's mandate for drug companies to include their list prices in TV ads.
O'Brien doesn't have any immediate plans for a next step, according to an HHS spokesperson.
"This has been the best experience of my life," O'Brien said in a statement. "Eventually, I hope to teach and mentor the next generation of health policy leaders, to pay forward what so many teachers, mentors, and employers have done for me, and contribute to the future of the drug-pricing debate."
Chip Davis, CEO of the trade group Association for Accessible Medicines, praised O'Brien as a "tireless advocate on behalf of patients" throughout his tenure.
"As one of the architects of the president's blueprint to lower drug prices, John used his experience, intellect and passion to forge policies that recognize the critical importance of generic and biosimilar medicines in lowering out-of-pocket costs for all Americans," Davis said. "John has diligently kept access to these important medicines as a primary focus of the administration's prescription drug policies."