Canadian Health Care System

The Canadian Health Care System is public and, thus, available for any Canadian resident. It was established in accordance with the Canada Health Act (1984) and obliges the local authorities and municipalities to be responsible for the provision of the medical services for the Canadian citizens. Though, the overall Canadian health care system is funded by the federal government, i.e. by the way of using the money of taxpayers.

However, many Canadian residents and observers complain about the quality of medical services received – Canadian hospitals are often overcrowded and there are long queues (or waiting times) for the necessary treatments. The problem is that one is able to resort to the use of private medical institutions only in the case of non-medically necessary services (like cosmetic surgery, for example) – carrying out medically necessary services by private institutions is illegal in Canada.

How the Canadian health care system works?

Financed by the federal government, the Canadian health care system provides a medically necessary treatment to every permanent resident free of charge. Refugees who allowed to live in Canada and were granted permanent residence might be eligible to join the Canadian health care system.

However, you are not eligible for the Canadian health care system during the first 3 months of your stay in Canada, if you are a permanent resident. During that 3-month long period, you should resort to the use of the services of private insurance companies and buy a 3-month long private health care insurance.

canadian health care system

All Canadian citizens have free access to all “medically necessary services”

Considering that the Canadian provinces, not the federal government, are responsible for delivering health care services, you should keep in mind that health insurance plans may vary across provinces and it is necessary to check what medical services you will get. Actually, you can easily do it on the website of Canada’s federal government. So once you get a health card, you are eligible for Medicare (the term used to describe the affordable Canadian health care system, available to every resident of the country).

If you are not a resident of Canada yet, you need to have at least three of the following documents in order to apply for a health card:

  • The immigration identification card of Canada;
  • Record of landing (also known as the IMM 1000 Form);
  • Card of permanent residence;
  • Confirmation of permanent residence (also known as the IMM 5292 Form);
  • Other immigration documents.

However, the set of required documents may also vary across the Canadian regions, so you should check the websites of your region’s authorities first. If you need hospitalization urgently – even if you are not a resident yet – you should call emergency and get hospitalized. For all other medical services you receive while being not a resident, you should pay with your health insurance.

During your stay in Canada, you might face a situation when you will see overcrowded hospitals. Unfortunately, the same stands for emergencies – this is actually connected with such a concept of the Canadian health care system. So if the nearest hospital does not have free beds and facilities during an emergency, you will be driven to another hospital.

What is covered by the public health care system?

As it was previously noted, the Canadian health care system offers public coverage of the medical services received within the country by its residents. Yet, the public health insurance does not cover all types of medical services. In particular, you might need extended insurance plans to cover the costs of dental care, physiotherapy, prescription eyeglasses, and prescription medications. Some time ago, Ontario and several other provinces excluded the services of opticians from the public health insurance, so you should seek an extended health insurance plan for these services as well.

Dealing with hospitals and doctors in Canada

The first and foremost thing you should do after getting a Canadian health card is to seek for a good and suitable for you physician, also known as a general practitioner (GP). He will deal with all your non-emergency complaints and, after identifying the problem, will refer you to a specific doctor. The majority of people find good general practitioners by asking their friends, relatives, and acquaintances and listening to their suggestions.

health in canada

Due to almost free access to hospitals, emergency sections are often overcrowded

Regarding the issue of hospitals, each Canadian city has (typically) more than one hospital, and each hospital should have an emergency department. Admission to the emergency departments of hospitals depends on the availability of doctors, facilities, and free space. But in any case, you should have a health card for receiving medical services in Canada.

If you have an emergency and you are in need of an ambulance, you should call to 911. Yet, you should call an ambulance any time you need, without actually caring about your health insurance plan. The health is much more important. Non-emergency treatments will be provided, if your GP, after discussing it with you, will think that it is necessary and refer you to a specific doctor.

In case if you are a foreigner who came just to visit Canada and see its tourist attractions, you may be required to pay for the medical services you receive while staying within the country. The total price will depend on what kind of a sickness you have and how long did you stay in a hospital.

How to deal with the Canadian pharmacies

There is no problem in finding pharmacies and drug stores in large Canadian cities, whereas they must be located in each area or district. Considering that the Canadian health care system is financed publicly, it is reasonable that the cost of prescription medications is regulated by the government. So, prescription medicines are less expensive in Canada than in the other developed countries, including the United States, its neighbor. After receiving a prescription for drugs from your GP or other doctors, you can go to any pharmacy and buy the drugs you need there. Extended health insurance plans allow you to get the costs of prescription drugs to be covered by insurance, but you have to pay for prescription medicines if you have only a public health insurance.

canada health

The prices of prescription medicines are regulated by the federal government

Painkillers, allergy remedies, and other types of over-the-counter drugs are freely sold in Canada, yet their prices are not regulated and so they may appear to be noticeably more expensive. You can buy such medicines in both drug stores and pharmacies, and they are usually not covered by any insurance plan.

Useful sources

If you need to get to know more about the Canadian health care system, you can visit the following websites:

Canadian Health Care

The website of the Canadian government

International Health Care System Profiles