Healthcare in Canada is an important topic for anyone living in or planning to migrate to Canada. The Federal Government, through the taxpayer, subsidizes the health system, though each province is responsible for its own healthcare system. This is known as a single payer system where basic services with the entire fee paid for by the government at the same rate.
The whole system is guided under the aegis of the provisions of the Canada Health Act.
Overview of Healthcare in Canada
Canada is the second largest country in the world, with a population nearing 32 million. The country has a government-funded, national healthcare system based on the Canada Health Act. The principles of this law are to provide health services that are universally available to permanent residents; accessible without income barriers; has comprehensive coverage; is portable within Canada and elsewhere; and is administered publicly.
Canadian provinces and territories are responsible for administering their own healthcare plans. Each must provide their residents with prepaid coverage for all necessary medical services. These include financing, planning, and providing medical care, hospital care, public health, and dispensing prescriptions. Coverage for dental care, optometric services, prescription drugs, hearing aids, and home care vary per province and territory.
Health policies, under the Canada Health Act, are portable primarily within Canada, while a partial reimbursement is available for treatment when you go outside the country. Still, many Canadians buy travel insurance when they go abroad due to the high medical costs in other countries.
This system is made possible by funds from the federal government as well as the provincial and territorial governments. Personal and corporate income taxes is the main source of revenue while some provinces charge residents an annual healthcare premium based on their yearly income.
This was captured in a nutshell at the Canada Expat Forum last August 17, 2009:
You will not be allowed to registered until you have been “landed” for three months. You should carry outside insurance for that period.
Pro’s Healthcare is covered basically, from taxes. Covers doctor/specialists visits, hospitalization.
Con’s Shortage of GP’s. There are walk-in clinics to offset this but you may not get an assigned GP for a few years. The clinics work well and you will receive equivalent treatment. Does not cover drugs (except when in hospital) and dental care.
Now, many employers provide supplementary health benefits such as drug costs and dental care and other medical procedures. I notice you have a thread about giving birth in Canada. The mother will receive excellent pre/post-natal care.
Access to the Healthcare System in Canada
Canada, as a whole, provides a free, basic, healthcare system for legal residents and its citizens, usually including access to a family doctor and emergency care or basic hospital treatment. Some provinces like Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario charge their residents healthcare tax for this very purpose. The Canada Health Act of 1984 dictates that prescription drugs and supplies are provided for free in the hospitals most of the time, as long as you stay there as an in-patient. This is echoed in a post on the Canada Expat Forum last July 28, 2009:
Madical care is “free” to all legal residents of Canada. In some Provinces a three month wait is necessary before it kicks in but that can be bridged with outside insurance.
The costs begin to accumulate when you are no longer staying in the hospital and begin purchasing your own prescription drugs and medical supplies. Specialist drugs can cost you hundreds of dollars for one course of treatment while other medical services are not covered: physiotherapy, massage therapy, chiropractic treatments and dental treatment.
If you work in the country, your employer will more likely offer you a comprehensive package that includes coverage for prescription drugs and services like physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment – up to 80% of the cost. Again, qualifications for free services vary in each province. If you are not satisfied with your benefits package, or would like to improve it, you can get a private policy.
Challenges with Healthcare in Canada
The quality of care is different in the different provinces. In the rural communities and those further up north, healthcare is a step below its southern counterparts. There are some concerns about discrepancies between levels of government funding and the quality of healthcare services.
The Canadian Healthcare Association has pointed out several areas in the healthcare system that need to be improved: overall healthcare funding, patient waiting times, improvement of medical technology, shortages in personnel, and inclusion of pharmaceutical, home, and long-term care in the healthcare system.
The occurrence of a “brain drain” in the healthcare profession – that of nurses leaving the country to seek greener pastures in the United States has also posed a problematic situation in Canada. It doesn’t help that the increasing phenomena of negligence, or errors in treatment has raised concerns about Canada’s healthcare system.
One major issue in all these is the increase of waiting times among patients to see specialists, undergo elective surgery, or get diagnostic tests. According to the Fraser Institute, waiting times have increased from 13.1 weeks in 1999 to 17.7 weeks in 2003 and then 17.9 in 2004. Crowded emergency rooms in the major cities are one indication of the severity of this problem.
Steps though are being undertaken at all levels to find solutions to the increasing cost and inefficiency of the system, which hopefully can be addressed by all the stakeholders in the health care industry.
On the Brighter Side of Healthcare in Canada
In 2004, the federal government and the provinces came up with a C$41-billion (US$34.2-billion) 10-year agreement in efforts at improving Canada’s healthcare system.
One major part of this agreement is an attempt to reduce waiting times: A Wait Times Reduction Fund has been drafted in order to allow provinces to hire more healthcare professionals, increase their capacity, clear backlogs, and increase ambulatory and community care programs. The provinces are ready to set targets for acceptable wait times and will establish a common set of criteria to gauge wait times across Canada.
The Bottomline with Healthcare in Canada
Overall, Canadians are generally satisfied with the standards of living in the country, which includes the state of healthcare in the nation. A Joint Canada/United States Survey of Health for 2002–2003, carried out by Statistics Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 87% of Canadians are somewhat very satisfied with healthcare services. The evaluation criteria on health based on personal safety, quality and availability of hospital and medical care, and medical supplies. Despite the difficulties, the healthcare system bodes well for Canadian residents and future migrants.