medical appointment

Understanding health care in Canada

By Delaney Rombough

Posted by March 29, 2021

Medical appointment

In Canada, we have universal health care. This means that the health care system is paid for through taxes, and you don’t have to pay for most health-care services if you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The Canada Health Act (CHA) is Canada’s federal legislation for public health insurance. The goal of the CHA is to “to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.”

Each province has its own health insurance plan, so your coverage may differ depending on where you live. Each province also provides free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government health card. In order to access health services, you will need a health card, which is issued by the provinces. You need to show this card in order to access health services. Note that there is often a waiting period of up to three months before you can apply for a health card. To learn more about how to apply for one, check out this article.

What’s covered

Medical services that are covered vary slightly from province to province. The Government of Canada provides access to basic health care services. Many provinces cover similar medical services such as:

  • Regular appointments with your family doctor
  • Visits to walk-in clinics
  • Visits to the emergency room
  • Medical tests (for example, x-rays and diagnostic procedures) and surgeries


Some provinces may also fully or partially cover things like prescription drugs and in-home care or offer services like eye care to children or seniors. It’s best to check your province or territory’s government health website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Getting extended health coverage

Unfortunately, not all health care is covered in the provincial plans. Things that are not usually covered include:

  • Dental care
  • Mental health services
  • Ambulance services
  • Physiotherapy, chiropractors, and massage therapists, among others
  • Vision care and hearing aids
  • Prescription medication
  • Some specialist doctors

Schools and employers often offer extended health insurance plans to their students and employees, respectively. Depending on where you work or study, you may be eligible for extended benefits that include some or all of the health care services not typically covered by the province. If you are covered by your employer or school, you will likely receive a card with a specific identification number that you just need to give to the receptionist at the doctor’s office. If you need a health insurance beyond what your employer or school offers, there are a lot of private insurance companies (Sun Life, Manulife, and Green Shield Canada are common) you can go to for private insurance plans.

Accessing health services

A family doctor is your primary health care provider. You should contact your family doctor if you have any health concerns. They can provide diagnosis and treatment for common illnesses or referrals to specialists. They can also do regular check-ups and provide you with prescriptions for medications. Provinces have different ways of helping you find a family doctor. For example, in Ontario, you can register with Health Care Connect, and in British Columbia, you can contact HealthLinkBC, and they will help you find a family doctor.

If you want to access other health care services like finding a dentist or a mental health therapist, you can easily do this on your own. You can either do an internet search for health professionals in your city or ask around for recommendations from friends, family, or coworkers. You can also ask your family doctor for help, and they might be able to point you in the right direction. If the service you are looking for has a regulatory body like dentists (the Canadian Dental Association) or physiotherapists (College of Physiotherapists), you can also visit their website to find practitioners in your area.

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