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Health Insurance

Updated: June 5th, 2023

The Canadian health system, often referred to as Canadian Health Insurance or the "Medicare" system, exists to ensure accessible and comprehensive healthcare for all Canadian residents. It operates on universality, comprehensiveness, portability, and accessibility. In Canada, healthcare is publicly funded through taxation, which allows eligible residents to receive essential medical services at no direct cost.

However, this free healthcare does not cover all aspects of healthcare, such as prescription drugs, dental care, and certain specialized treatments. As a result, many individuals supplement their coverage through private health insurance, creating a dual system. While health insurance is not mandatory, it is highly recommended for individuals who desire additional coverage beyond what the public system provides.

This combination of public funding and optional private insurance ensures Canadians have access to quality healthcare while also allowing them to tailor their coverage to their specific needs.

Health Insurance in Canada

Health Insurance in Canada

What is Health Insurance?

Health insurance is vital in helping individuals manage and reduce their medical expenses. With health insurance, individuals pay a monthly fee, known as a premium, in exchange for coverage. Some plans have a deductible, which individuals must pay out of pocket before their health insurance coverage kicks in. Depending on the plan, health insurance may cover 100% of costs after the deductible or a percentage known as coinsurance. Additionally, health insurance coverage often includes valuable no-cost programs and services, such as virtual healthcare options.

How Does Health Insurance in Canada Work?

Healthcare coverage in Canada can be categorized into three types:

Universal Healthcare (Provincial/Territorial)

Universal healthcare in Canada is funded by taxpayers and provides coverage for most basic healthcare and medical services. However, coverage may vary from province to province and territory. Individuals must present their provincial/territorial health card to access these services.

Workplace Benefits

Many employers and associations offer workplace benefits to assist employees in covering costs that provincial/territorial health care plans may not cover. These benefits can include coverage for certain prescription drugs, dental care, hospital stays, vision care, paramedical services, and ambulance services. Workplace benefits often offer more affordable coverage than personal health and dental plans by sharing costs within a group. Moreover, these plans can often be customized to suit individual needs.

Personal Health and Dental Insurance

This type of insurance is commonly used by retirees, self-employed individuals, those not eligible for group benefits, or individuals who have lost their previous group benefits coverage. Personal health and dental insurance helps cover expenses not included in provincial/territorial health care plans. These plans come in various options catering to different needs and budgets; some even provide coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

In Canada, the combination of universal healthcare, workplace benefits, and personal health and dental insurance ensures individuals can access comprehensive and tailored coverage to meet their specific healthcare needs.

Free Health v Health Insurance

  Free Health (Universal Healthcare) Health Insurance
What is it? Government-funded healthcare system available to all Canadian residents Privately purchased coverage for additional healthcare expenses
Coverage Basic healthcare and medical services Varies depending on the plan, can include prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, etc.
Cost Funded by taxpayers, no direct cost at the point of service Requires monthly premiums and may have deductibles and coinsurance
Accessibility Available to all Canadian residents with a provincial/territorial health card Purchased individually or provided through employers/associations
Additional Services No-cost programs and services, virtual healthcare, etc. May include additional benefits and services beyond basic coverage

Benefits of Health Insurance

Health insurance offers a wide range of benefits, including coverage for medical services, protection against high costs, and access to a network of healthcare providers. It also provides coverage for prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, preventive services, and screenings. With flexible options and reduced waiting times, health insurance provides peace of mind and ensures timely access to medical care.

  • Coverage for a wide range of medical services and treatments
  • Financial protection against high healthcare costs
  • Access to a network of healthcare providers and specialists
  • Prescription drug coverage
  • Dental care coverage
  • Vision care coverage
  • Coverage for preventive services and screenings
  • Flexible options to customize coverage based on individual needs
  • Timely access to medical care and reduced waiting times
  • Peace of mind knowing that healthcare expenses are covered

Healthcare Options for Foreigners and Expatriates in Canada

Healthcare Options for Foreigners and Expatriates in Canada

Canada's healthcare system primarily caters to its citizens and permanent residents, and international citizens may not have immediate access to public healthcare coverage. While emergency medical treatment is provided to foreigners and expatriates, those without a global health insurance plan may have to bear the costs. However, certain individuals, such as those with a Canadian work permit and employer, may eventually become eligible for Medicare.

Residency requirements vary by province or territory in Canada. For instance, in Ontario, applicants must physically be present in the province for at least 153 days in any 12 months, including at least 153 days within their first 183 days.

Even if foreigners or expatriates can join Canada's public healthcare system, the coverage is generally limited to services within the country. Therefore, if there are plans to travel outside of Canada, it is essential to have an international medical insurance plan to address any medical needs.

Private Health Insurance

While government (public) health insurance plans provide access to basic medical services, private health insurance can cover expenses not included in the government plans.

The most common type of private insurance plan in Canada is extended health plans. These plans offer coverage for various services, including:

Service Price (in CAD)
Prescription medications 30-200 per prescription
Dental care 500-2,000 for basic procedures
Physiotherapy 70-150 per session
Ambulance services 200-1,000 per transport
Prescription eyeglasses 100 to 500 for frames and lenses

If you are employed, you may have the option to obtain additional coverage through your company or organization. It is advisable to check with your employer for more information regarding their health insurance plans.

Accessing Public Health: Medicare

Accessing Public Health: Medicare

Medicare is the term used to describe Canada's publicly funded healthcare system. Canada has 13 provincial and territorial health care insurance plans, unlike a single national plan. Under this system, all Canadian residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services without paying out of pocket.

Responsibilities for healthcare services are shared between provincial and territorial governments and the federal government. Provincial and territorial governments manage, organize, and deliver healthcare services to their residents.

On the other hand, the federal government sets and administers national standards through the Canada Health Act, provides funding support to provincial and territorial healthcare services, and supports the delivery of healthcare services to specific groups.

To access healthcare in Canada, individuals must apply for a health card from their respective province or territory. The health card serves as proof of registration when seeking medical care. However, it's important to note that there may be a waiting period of up to three months for public health insurance to become effective. During this waiting period, it is advisable to have private health insurance to cover healthcare needs.

Using a Family Doctor

Many Canadians have a family doctor who provides basic healthcare services. Family doctors offer treatments when individuals are sick, provide tips for staying healthy, and may conduct blood tests, blood pressure checks, and pap smears. The family doctor may refer patients to specialists for further care if necessary.

While not all Canadians have a family doctor, having one has advantages, such as consistent care from the same healthcare provider and the ability to schedule appointments in advance to avoid waiting in line.

Getting Medication

In Canadian hospitals, the necessary medication is provided to patients free of charge. However, medications obtained from pharmacies are often not covered by public health insurance. Individuals may must pay for prescriptions themselves, but coverage options may be available through other insurance or drug programs, such as provincial and territorial medication programs or private insurance plans offered by employers.

Using Both Systems Together: The Best Option for Healthcare in Canada

Using Both Systems Together: The Best Option for Healthcare in Canada

Canada's public healthcare system ensures access to medically necessary hospital and physician services without direct out-of-pocket payments, but it has limitations. The public system may not cover certain services such as prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, and specialized treatments. This is where private health insurance can fill the gaps and provide additional coverage for these services.

Individuals can enjoy several benefits by utilizing private health insurance alongside the public system. First and foremost, private health insurance covers services that the public system does not cover, such as prescription medications, which can be a significant expense for individuals with chronic conditions. Private health insurance plans often include dental care, vision care, and specialized treatments like physiotherapy or chiropractic care.

Another advantage of using both systems is the flexibility in choosing healthcare providers. While the public system may assign you to a primary care provider or require you to visit specific clinics, private health insurance allows you to select the healthcare professionals and facilities that best meet your needs. This flexibility can result in shorter appointment wait times and access to a wider network of specialists.

Timely access to medical care is crucial to healthcare, and private health insurance can often expedite the process. The public system may have longer waiting periods for certain treatments or surgeries, which can be a challenge for individuals requiring immediate attention. With private health insurance, individuals can often access these services more quickly, reducing the potential impact on their health and overall well-being.

Using both systems together provides individuals with peace of mind. While the public system ensures that essential services are covered, private health insurance adds a layer of financial protection. Unexpected medical expenses can be significantly reduced, offering individuals and families security and stability.

Private health insurance plans vary in coverage, cost, and eligibility criteria. You should carefully assess your healthcare needs and explore different options to find a plan that aligns with your requirements eg: As a non-citizen, and budget. Researching and comparing different insurance providers can help you find the most suitable plan for your specific circumstances.

While Canada offers a publicly funded healthcare system, immigrants should obtain private health insurance to cover their medical needs, especially during the waiting period for public health insurance. This provides financial protection, access to a wider range of services, and peace of mind in knowing that healthcare expenses are covered. Prioritizing health insurance will ensure you have comprehensive coverage and a smooth transition to the Canadian healthcare system.


Are There Any Exceptions or Special Considerations for Accessing Public Health Insurance in Canada as a Foreigner or Expatriate?

While Canada's public health insurance system covers all Canadian residents, including foreigners and expatriates, certain residency requirements may be set by each province or territory. It's essential to familiarize yourself with the specific rules and regulations of your intended province or territory to ensure eligibility for public healthcare.

Can I Rely Solely on Canada's Public Health Insurance, or Do I Need Additional Private Health Insurance?

While Canada's public health insurance system covers basic medical services, it is recommended to have additional private health insurance. Public health insurance does not typically cover prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, and other services. Having private health insurance can provide financial protection against these costs and offer access to a broader range of healthcare services and treatments.

How Can I Ensure a Smooth Transition to the Canadian Healthcare System as an Immigrant?

As an immigrant to Canada, it is crucial to plan and take the necessary steps for a smooth transition to the Canadian healthcare system. This includes researching and applying for your provincial or territorial health card, understanding the waiting period for public health insurance coverage, and obtaining private health insurance to bridge any gaps in coverage.

Additionally, finding a family doctor and familiarizing yourself with the local healthcare resources will contribute to seamless integration into the Canadian healthcare system.

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