You don’t have to look further than the so-called “Pharma Bro” scandal to see America has a big problem with the cost of prescription drugs.

A lack of cheap meds has millions of people making hard choices between their health and their immediate basic needs. Even with insurance, co-pays on prescriptions can be cost prohibitive.

And though it’s a hot-button issue for politicians and activists alike, not enough seems to be happening to bring relief to those struggling under the weight of prescription drug expenses.

But why is it so hard to find cheap meds? Let’s examine the leading causes.

Drug Companies Set the Prices

The United States does not regulate drug prices, unlike many other countries. In Canada and England, for example, the government negotiates prices with pharmaceutical companies, bringing costs way down and access to cheap meds way up.

If the government’s health organization deems the cost of the drug too high, they won’t buy it. In the US, however, drugmakers set the prices based on what their competitors are doing and what they think they can get away with charging.

The government is largely unable to influence the price of any particular drug because it doesn’t have negotiating power. Take Medicare as a great example of this. The program is bound by law to cover all drugs approved by the FDA regardless of their price or the availability of a generic pill that accomplishes the same thing.

Insurers are not motivated to negotiate prices down because they stand to benefit financially from the rising costs along with the drugmakers and pharmacies that carry the medicine.

There’s no one in the process arguing for the most cost-effective solution for patients.

Limited Competition

One of the side effects of our free market system is the US government’s effort to simultaneously promote innovation and protect intellectual property.

Though an important consideration, this has directly led to dramatically higher drug prices in America than abroad.

Drug manufacturers in the US enjoy a very lengthy patent protection that allows them to be the sole manufacturers of their drugs for 20 years. When you factor in research and development time, new drugs typically enjoy a 10 to 12-year monopoly in the market.

The FDA also grants companies exclusive rights for certain drugs that cure very specific or rare diseases.

It is very common for a pharmaceutical company to increase the price of their drugs annually by 5% or more. By the time the patent has expired, the cost of that medication has skyrocketed.

This, combined with the heavy backlog of applications for generic drugs awaiting federal approval, leaves many patients without an option for cheap meds.

Research and Development Costs

The cost of researching new treatments continues to skyrocket. Some estimates place the cost of getting a new drug approved at upwards of $1 billion.

And some medications are so specific they only treat a small subsection of the population. Pharmaceutical companies pass much of their R&D costs back to the patient.

Hidden in this factor is the cost for all the drugs that failed to make it to the market. Manufacturers will also argue that the high prices protect the industry and lead to future innovation. You’re essentially paying for the drug you’re taking, the one that never made it, and the one that you might need later.

As technology improves and pharmaceutical companies investigate new, more scientifically complex treatments, this will continue to be a justification for the exorbitant cost of drugs.

But there is evidence that these research and development costs may be overstated. Whatever the truth is about these costs, the likelihood that consumers will see relief from their effect anytime soon isn’t great.

Corporate Greed

The strength of the pharmaceutical lobby and the current state of Congressional gridlock have helped create a perfect storm to make cheap meds hard to get in America.

Drug companies know patients can’t say “no.” As long as people need their medicine, pharmaceutical companies are empowered to take advantage of the system that allows them to set the price.

Beyond lobbying to limit the power of Medicare, drug manufacturers employ numerous tactics to capitalize on their advantage.

Among the most ethically questionable is the strategy of gaming the system to increase their exclusive patent-protected window by changing the pill coating or other small detail. Some drugmakers will also pay other companies to delay releasing a generic drug.

The effect of these practices on the consumer is undeniable. Instead of paying double or triple the original price of a drug that continues to rise in cost, a patient could expect to only pay about 33% of the original price for a drug that has several generic versions also available.

What Can Americans Do to Find Cheap Meds?

Fortunately, you have options to help you save as much money as possible when buying medicine. Prescription shopping online is a convenient and increasingly popular method to give patients more control over their health.

You could save up to 90% shopping online versus going to the pharmacy.

Beyond the price savings, there are many benefits to using a discount pharmacy. It is important, though, that you do your research to make sure you’re using a reputable source. Not every online pharmacy maintains the same standards.

You can also download a coupon app or use our search tool to compare prices if you prefer to pick your medicine up at the pharmacy. Even if you have insurance, you may notice savings.

Be smart and stay informed. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options and make sure he or she knows that you prefer generic drugs where available. Being proactive with your healthcare provider will save you money and make you feel like a partner in managing your own health.

Get the Meds You Need

No American should suffer because they can’t afford to pay for medicine. We want to help.

We’re your resource for finding cheap meds and we’re committed to providing you all the information you need to stay healthy. From prescription assistance programs to pharmacy reviews, we’re your one-stop shop.

Find the cheap meds you need today!