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Everything You Need To Know About The Canadian Healthcare System

Canada has been known for its stellar healthcare system. In 2021, the average life expectancy stands at 82.66 years old, an increase of 0.18 percent in 2020. However, since the Covid-19 outbreak, many nations’ healthcare system has been put to the test. And Canada was not spared. However, thanks to the resilience of the Canadian healthcare system, it remains one of the most vaccinated nations against Covid-19, with nearly 75 percent of its population fully vaccinated (as of 5 November 2021). It is also one of the countries with the lowest Covid-19 mortality rate standing at only 1.7 percent of all cases.

So what is it about its healthcare system that endures till today? This article will tell you everything you need to know about the Canadian healthcare system – what constitutes it and how you can apply for it, as well.

Public healthcare in Canada

Passed as federal legislation in 1957 and in 1966, the Canadian Medicare system is a universal, publicly funded healthcare system that’s available to all citizens and permanent residents. This means free, universal healthcare coverage for all who is eligible and living in Canada. Most may still have to pay a small out-of-pocket fee depending on the treatment, but public healthcare is generally free or low-cost. As of 2019, the Canadian government spent about 10.8 percent of its GDP on healthcare, according to Statista. While the public healthcare system is comprehensive, approximately two thirds of residents still opt for private insurance to complement the universal coverage.

Do note that the waiting time to see a specialist may take as long as four to five months, depending on the medical institution. On the other hand, seeing a primary care doctor can happen within the next day or two of appointment or up to a week.

Applying for public healthcare may take up to three months depending on where you apply. Upon successful application, you will receive a health insurance card. Each province and territory in Canada possess its own health insurance plan, and all will also provide free emergency medical services (even if you don’t own a government health card).

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you are eligible to apply for public healthcare. (You can apply via your provincial and territorial ministries of health listed here.)

If you’re not yet a permanent resident, you’d have to wait till you’re eligible before you can enjoy public healthcare. To apply for permanent residency in Canada, you’d have to at least have stayed in Canada for at least two years consecutively and pass certain requirements as delineated by the Canadian government.

What does public healthcare cover in Canada?

Primary healthcare: This includes consultation visits to your primary care doctor or general practitioner (GP), treatment of common diseases and injuries, basic emergency care services, referrals to hospital- or specialist-level care, primary mental healthcare, palliative and end-of-life care, primary maternal care, healthy child development and rehabilitation services.

Secondary healthcare: In-patient hospital care, long-term care facilities, long-term home or community chronic care.

*Supplementary services: Prescription drugs outside hospitals, dental care, vision care, medical equipment and appliances, physiotherapists and chiropractic adjustments.

*These are provided free only to a group of exceptions e.g., seniors, children and low-income residents. Others may have to co-pay via an out-of-pocket sum or private health insurance plans.

Cost of healthcare for foreigners in Canada

Non-residents will have to shoulder their medical expenses until they become eligible for public healthcare in Canada. The cost can go up to $7,000 per day (depending on the treatment) if one requires in-patient hospital care. The rate becomes even more if one requires intensive care, hitting close to $15,000. This includes emergency or accident treatment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have an existing universal private health coverage before you decide to move.

Here are some leading private healthcare insurance providers in Canada as recommended by InterNations:

Alternatively, you may also opt to retain your home insurance policy if it has international coverage.

Private healthcare in Canada

While the public healthcare system is rather comprehensive, some two thirds of residents still opt for private insurance to complement the universal coverage. This is because public healthcare only grants you access to basic medical services. Getting a private healthcare insurance may be useful for services that aren’t fully covered by the state:

  • Prescription medication
  • Dental care
  • Physiotherapy
  • Ambulance services
  • Prescription eyeglasses

Temporary health coverage for refugees

canadian healthcare system emergency department
Photo credit: ivvpu / 123RF

Under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), temporary basic health insurance will be granted to refugees, protected persons and refugee claimants until they are eligible for public or private healthcare.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, this program will provide the following:

  • Immigration medical exams and follow-up treatment of health conditions that might deter an individual’s entry to Canada under paragraph 38, section 1A of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
  • Vaccinations
  • Medical support for safe travel
  • Health measures during a disease outbreak

Eligible individuals who qualify for the IFHP include: Resettled refugees, protected persons in Canada, refugee claimants, victims of human trafficking, detainees. You can also access a complete list of the length of coverage for each individual type.

Leading medical institutions in Canada

As reported by Newsweek, here are some of the top hospitals in Canada and the type of care each specialises in:

  1. Toronto General Hospital (Toronto): A major teaching hospital specialising in cardiology (heart) and organ transplantation.
  2. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (Toronto): The largest trauma centre in Canada. It specialises in cancer treatment, heart and vascular treatment, high-risk maternal and new-born care, image-guided brain therapies and trauma.
  3. Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto): Specialises in geriatrics, cardiology, diabetes and endocrinology, neurology, orthopaedics (musculoskeletal), gastroenterology (digestive system), urology (urinary tract), pulmonology (respiratory system), ENT (eyes, nose and throat) and cancer.
  4. North York General Hospital (Toronto): A top choice for medical students and residents. It specialises in general surgery, obstetrics (pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum care) and emergency medicine. It is one of the largest obstetrical centres in Ontario.
  5. Jewish General Hospital (Montreal): Specialises in oncology (cancer), cardiology, emergency medicine, family medicine and obstetrics.
  6. Vancouver General Hospital (Vancouver): Specialises in bone marrow transplant, leukaemia (blood cancers) treatment, burns, epilepsy surgery, organ transplant, spinal cord injury treatment and quaternary-level trauma care.
  7. Rockyview General Hospital (Calgary): Specialises in emergency and critical care, urology and ophthalmology (eye).

Mental healthcare in Canada

Canada not only operates on a robust healthcare system, it sees mental health as a priority, too. There are three main mental health organisations in Canada: Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). Other organisations like Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support is also a government-funded support scheme to help individuals experience mental and emotional distress.

Anyone suffering from a mental health crisis can access support from various healthcare and wellness providers. The Canadian government advises to:

  • Contact your primary care doctor
  • Go to your nearest hospital
  • Call the 24/7 Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 if you are or know of someone who might be in immediate danger. (Quebec: 1-866-277-3553) Alternatively, young persons aged between 5 to 29 can call the Kids Help Phone anytime at 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868 for support.
  • Contact any of the abovementioned mental health organisations for support and/or resources. Alternatively, the government has its own wealth of mental health resources on its website.

It’s important to know your health coverage before you decide to move across the world. Accidents and emergencies do happen. And when they do it’s important to ensure that you are covered in order to have access to the care you need.

Feeling ready to make the big move?

Head over here to begin your journey
Or start ticking off your relocation checklist here

Still unsure?

Learn more about Canada here
Explore more destinations here 

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