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Universal Healthcare: What it is and how to access it as a new Canadian

Universal Healthcare: What it is and how to access it as a new Canadian

Walk into any clinic or hospital today, and you may experience delight in knowing that Canada provides valuable medical services at no cost to all Canadians.

Permanent Residents and foreign workers who have lived in the province for three months are also eligible. Foreign workers must have a work permit for six months or longer.   

You will need a healthcare service card. Once you have a provincial service card, you can book an appointment with your doctor to access medical services free of charge.  

If you urgently need help, call 911 regardless of your status. You may be required to pay for an ambulance and other services, but a call could save your life. 

What Your Canadian Health Card Will Cover 

Medicare covers a visit to your family doctor, walk-in clinic, and emergency healthcare such as surgery; however, you must have your service card. 

Your family physician is a valuable resource for your health. In Canada, doctors train to treat acute illnesses, chronic diseases, and emotional situations. Your doctor can perform diagnostic tests like blood tests, X-rays, blood pressure checks and pap smears. They also offer health promotion and advice on avoiding illness and staying healthy. You may want to ask for advice. 

If your condition is more severe and requires a specialist, your family doctor will arrange one on your behalf. 

Each Province offers different service coverage. Access the links to apply for a healthcare card in your Province or Territory, learn more about Provincial health services or find a doctor. 


What is not covered 
Many services, such as ambulance services, vision care, physical therapy, the chiropractor, a visit to your dentist, or the cost of medications, are not covered. So, it’s good to check with your doctor or service provider. 

Most Provinces recommended additional private health coverage. However, as an employee, you may not have to worry, as most Canadian employers offer medical benefits. 

In addition, your local pharmacist can assist you with questions about your health for situations like colds and common minor concerns. 

Note: Seniors and low-income residents receive coverage for prescription drugs, ambulance costs, hearing checks, eye exams, and dental care.

What you need to know if you are Visiting, a Temporary resident, or a Permanent Resident
Once you qualify, you must visit a Service Canada Office. Show proof of residence, like a utility bill, your passport, and valid documentation to prove your status and identity, like a work permit. Depending on the province, a three to a six-month waiting period before you qualify is possible, so you must purchase insurance to cover the gap.     

Clinics and Hospitals will ask you for your provincial service card at the intake desk, so bring your card with you. 

Permanent Residence 
To qualify, you must show proof of employment. There may not be a waiting period. Check with your province to determine if your medical coverage can begin as soon as you apply. 

Work Permit 
You must work a minimum number of hours per week and plan to reside in the province for at least six months. 

Student Visas
Check with your university and with the province where you intend to study. Many educational institutions have arrangements with the province and with healthcare providers. 

For example, British Columbia offers healthcare if you intend to study for six months. In Ontario, a healthcare coverage fee is typically incorporated into your tuition free. 

Temporary Residence 
You do not qualify for provincial healthcare unless your stay is 12 months or longer and a minimum of six months. In addition, you must show the appropriate documentation.

Healthcare Funding 

“It is estimated that health spending in Canada will be $228.1 billion in 2016, or approximately 11.1% of GDP, the majority of which goes to hospitals (29.5%), drugs (16%) and physicians (15.3%)” (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2016). 

The average physician in Canada earns 225,000 Canadian dollars. Funding is provided to each province by the Federal Government and covers approximately 70% of a Canadian’s health care cost. The government collects taxes to pay for this. The federal government then pays cash and tax transfers to the provinces and territories. 
Healthcare in Canada represents a collaboration with the private and public sectors, also contributing to the healthcare system and the health of Canadians. For example, a hospital may raise funds for a new Gerontology wing from corporations and fundraising initiatives.
Corporate and private funds account for the remaining 30% of funding. 

History of Healthcare and Canada Health Act Principles 

The foundations of universal healthcare in Canada were established as Provincial coverage in the Universal Hospital Care Plan in Saskatchewan in 1947. At the time, Provinces were responsible for providing hospitals and doctors to their populations. The system proved popular, and other provinces quickly adopted universal healthcare. 

The provinces remain responsible for healthcare. 

In 1984, The Canada Health Act established five criteria for providing health care coverage. Those five criteria are Public Administration, Comprehensiveness, Universality, Portability and Accessibility.    

Healthcare in Canada was well established by 2003 when the Accord on Healthcare Renewal introduced reforms to enhance coverage for specific home care services and medicine, improved information technology, better access to diagnostic and medical equipment, and enhanced government accountability. In 2014, a panel on healthcare innovation was launched. 

Today, Canadians benefit from an advised and innovative healthcare system. 


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