In the last instalment of our Life in Canada Series, we explained the basics of federal politics. But there’s a second level of government in Canada, provincial government. It works pretty much the same way as federal government, but without a Senate and with different titles. There are also 13 of them, one in every province and territory in Canada. Provincial and federal governments share power in Canada, and one of the things that they both have an interest in is public health.
Technically, healthcare is the provincial government’s responsibility. But every province has to have a health insurance program in place that meets federal standards. So the specifics of public healthcare (Medicare) change from province to province. But Canadians still have access to public healthcare all over Canada, and can expect the same quality of service everywhere.
For more information about a specific province or territory’s health insurance program, visit their website:
The point of Medicare is to make sure that no Canadians are denied access to necessary medical care, regardless of their income. To achieve that, Canada has a national health insurance program that is publicly funded, even though it’s privately provided. So doctors and hospitals get paid by the government instead of by their patients.
Since healthcare is a provincial responsibility, the provinces receive money from the federal government to help pay for the cost of the insurance plan. Some provinces have other systems to contribute to the financing of their health insurance, like premiums, sales taxes, or payroll taxes. So Medicare is free for Canadians in the same way that roads are free for Canadians. We all contribute a little so that none of us have to pay for it when we need to use it.
One important thing to remember is that Canadians are members of their home province health insurance plan, not a single national plan.
One of the federal standards that provincial health insurance programs have to meet is that they cover medically necessary hospital and physician services. So most family doctor (called general practitioners or GPs in Canada) and hospital services are covered under Medicare. But there are some things that provincial health insurance plans are not obligated to cover, like:
Some provincial insurance plans do cover these things, but sometimes Canadians have to pay out of pocket for them. Canadians can also become members of a private health insurance plan that does cover these things. There are insurance companies that offer this extra coverage for an annual fee, or employers who offer a more comprehensive insurance plan than the public one to their employees and their employees’ dependents.
All Canadian citizens and permanent residents have access to their home province’s health insurance program. The only time a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may not have access to Medicare is if they do not meet the residency requirements of any province. Residency requirements are different in each province, but in most cases you have to be physically present in the province for at least half of the year. That can sometimes mean that temporary itinerant workers (like farm workers), or transient people (with no fixed home) do not meet residency requirements for any province. When that happens, the individual would need to buy a private health insurance plan, or else be forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical services.
Temporary residents do not have access to Medicare. So if you are in Canada on a temporary visa, you should look into private health insurance plans. These might be offered by your employer, school, or a private insurance company.
Don’t forget to check out our Move to Canada and Living the Canadian Dream article series.
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