DESPITE YEARS OF CONSTANT protests, medicine prices and drugmaker profits continue to soar. Consumers have been complaining about the spiraling prescription drug prices and politicians have promised action, but no progress has been made and they are losing the battle.

Leigh Purvis, director of health services for the AARP Public Policy Institute, said there are no simple solutions to the problems. “Drug companies are incredibly innovative in finding ways to strengthen their monopolies.”

The drug industry has deep pockets and spends enormous amounts of money lobbying state and federal politicians and bureaucrats to keep their golden goose alive. Unless politicians suddenly get tough with them, there is no reason to believe big pharma will voluntarily lower drug prices.

According to the AARP study published in the May edition of the AARP Bulletin, the average annual cost of a brand-name drug has more than tripled in the past decade, using information for 2006 to 2017.

At least 20 outpatient drugs now carry a list price of more than $25,000 for a one-month supply, said GoodRx. Older adults now take an average of 4.5 medications each month, which can add up to a total retail cost of more than $30,000 a year for brand-name drugs.

Most consumers have no clue what their prescription medications cost because they have insurance. Starting this summer, ads for drugs costing at least $35 per month will have to include their prices. It is hoped this requirement will result in more transparency.

Nothing better illustrates the insanity of the nation’s health care system than the drug ads people watch. A patient and a provider determine a course of treatment and then, much of the cost is socialized within broad insurance pools. In America, no insurer is powerful enough to set a limit on what it will spend.

The United States has the highest prescription drug costs in the world because we’re the only industrialized nation whose government doesn’t bargain with drug makers over pricing. Medicare could change that. Thank Congress for that fact.

A more realistic hope is that the price disclosure rules prompt Americans to think about how drugs are paid for in this country. As consumers learn more about their care costs, they might begin to adjust their careless behavior, look for cheaper treatment alternatives or even push for more radical reforms to health care.

What about generic drugs? Well, many big drug companies have entered that industry and used their muscle to slow the process. Some drug companies pay off generic manufacturers to delay bringing cheaper versions of medications to market.

Even generic drug companies are confronted with headaches that could take years to cure. An amended civil antitrust complaint by more than 40 state attorney generals alleges that 15 individuals and 20 corporate defendants conspired to fix prices of more than 100 generic drugs.

The allegations highlight a basic health care truth: all companies, including those charged with keeping spending in check, prosper when prices go up. That’s the power of the $3.5 trillion health care industry.

When the pressure builds on manufacturers or they are threatened by generics, they string them out by announcing a new, improved version of popular, profitable drugs.

In many cases, the new drug is only a slightly modified version of the drug and offers a very small improvement. The new version costs more, but has virtually no additional benefit. The consumer doesn’t want to take any chances; they demand the newest therapy.

Generic drug prices can be as much as 90% less than branded products, which translated into $265 billion worth of consumer savings in 2017, according to a generic manufacturers trade group cited by AARP.

That’s why brand-name manufacturers step in and “financially reward” generics to back off patent litigation and delay price competition. Congress needs to give Medicare the ability to negotiate with drugmakers. Medicare could buy huge volumes of popular drugs and that would help lower prices.

Some consumers ask “Why not buy drugs in Canada where the prices are much lower?” Critics fear this idea because it would open the door to harmful counterfeits. Yet when there have been shortages of drugs, the Food and Drug Administration has safely imported drugs. So it is possible; or the extra demand could lead to price increases in Canada.

Big pharma companies say new-age drugs are expensive to develop and make available, often more than $2.5 billion. Critics counter that argument by saying new blockbuster immunotherapies for cancer should be cheaper because they were made possible because of government-funded work done at the National Institutes of Health research labs.

Some critics ask “How do you measure the benefits of these new miracle drugs?” They often don’t offer a cure. Many only extend a terminal patient’s life by a few weeks or months; or only lower sugar levels in diabetics by a small, insignificant amount. Are the increased costs worth it?

Consumers often demand the newest and most advanced medications and therapies even if they provide modest benefits. The new wonder drugs are often in limited supplies. Then the question becomes “How do we determine who receives those treatments?”