The healthcare system in Canada

In Canada, each Canadian resident or citizen is automatically covered by the public healthcare system which they are free to supplement with private provision.

THE PUBLIC HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

The public healthcare system in Canada is governed by the Canada Health Act.

The system is national, but each province administers its own programme. There are therefore some differences from one province to another in terms of eligibility or pricing. So, if you move to another province, you must re-register with the new provincial health system, as if you were changing countries.

What cover does the Canadian healthcare system provide?

We need to distinguish between primary healthcare services involving doctors and other healthcare professionals and hospital care.
The free services provided by doctors are: consultations at their surgery or at hospital and diagnosis and treatment. All treatment considered to be medically required is free.
Drugs with co-payment are partially covered by the provincial health plan if you do not have private top-up medical cover.
Dental treatment (unless dispensed in a hospital) and optical care is not covered, which is why many Canadians take out private insurance to cover these expenses.
The top-up insurance provided by your employer covers the share of the co-payment which is not funded by Social Security.

How much does health insurance cost?

The public health system is funded by the federal government, but also by the provinces and territories, through taxation.

Only one province, British Columbia, finances healthcare through monthly premiums:
- $ 54 / month for one person,
- $ 96 / month for a couple,
- $ 108 / month for a family with three or more children.

What you need to do:

Some provinces require the applicant to have resided in Canada for 3 months before being granted cover (but this waiting period may be revoked if there is an agreement between your country of origin and the provincial scheme).

In any case, remember to apply for your insurance card as soon as you arrive. Application forms are available at pharmacies, doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. The province where you live will then send you your insurance card. This card is required to qualify for free care.  It is therefore important to keep it with you at all times and present it at each medical consultation.

You are free to choose your doctor in Canada and you can change whenever you want. There is a shortage of family doctors and drop-in clinics are a good alternative.

THE PRIVATE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

Employees pay into the Canadian Social Security scheme and also contribute to a top-up healthcare plan through their company, or take out private insurance to cover the cost of specialist care.
You are in fact not allowed to take out private insurance to cover primary healthcare (prevention and treatment of common diseases and injuries, basic emergency services, primary mental healthcare, palliative and end of life care, health promotion, primary maternity care etc.). This care is usually provided by GPs.
As a result, private medical centres do not provide this type of service and are usually restricted to specialised medicine.

Date of publication May 3 2012