Canadian citizens benefit from universal public health insurance funded by their payroll taxes. Canada’s universal care is of high quality, but it is not comprehensive. Emergency and preventive care are largely covered, but 30% of healthcare expenditures are private or out-of-pocket.
Did you know that Canadian medicare does not guarantee access to dental care, vision care, or prescription medications? If you find yourself without coverage, the costs are high.
Have questions? This guide explains what is covered by the public system, private insurance options, reviews, and the best insurance for you.
What is health insurance?
In Canada, health insurance helps to pay the cost of medical expenses incurred from illness or injury. It can also cover some everyday medical expenses such as dental, vision and prescriptions. On top of access to universal public health insurance through one’s province or territory, one may obtain additional health insurance through one’s employer, buy it independently or qualify for supplemental government-provided coverage.
What is the difference between public and private health insurance in Canada?
In Canada, both public and private health care insurance exist. Every citizen or permanent resident may benefit from universal public health insurance. Examples are OHIP in Ontario, RAMQ in Quebec or the Medical Services Plan in British Columbia. Supplemental private insurance covers additional expenses and services not included in the public coverage. Private insurers include Sun Life, Manulife, Desjardins, GMS, Blue Cross Canada, and Canada Life (which recently absorbed Great-West Life and London Life), among many others.
Public health insurance in Canada
Public health insurance is universal health coverage funded through taxes and administered by the government. One is required to have a health insurance card to receive medical services. Public health insurance in Canada differs significantly from province to province.
Private health insurance in Canada
Private health insurance is health coverage that covers expenses not paid by the public system. It is either purchased by an individual or offered as a benefit by an employer. It typically reimburses a percentage of prescription drugs, dental care, supplemental health care, medical equipment and nursing, and vision care. There are basic, inexpensive plans that can help pay a portion of medical expenses. More complete, more expensive options offer greater reimbursement on a wider range of treatments. These plans may include services like access to therapists and chiropractors, semi-private hospital rooms, catastrophic drug, emergency travel, and orthodontic services.
We highly recommend getting a private insurance plan. It can help you access better care when you need it while saving you from large, unexpected expenses.
Balance your expected needs and your budget to find a plan that makes sense for you.
Popular private health insurance companies in Canada include:
- Blue Cross Canada Health Insurance
- CAA Health Insurance
- Canada Life Health Insurance
- Costco Health Insurance
- GMS Health Insurance
- Manulife Health Insurance
- Odyssey Health Services
- Star Health Insurance
- Sun Life Health Insurance
What does health insurance cover in Canada?
Public health insurance plans cover many basic medical needs. This includes doctor’s visits, hospital visits, and surgeries. What is covered, and at what percentage, varies greatly between provinces. This topic goes beyond the scope of this summary page.
Private health insurance in Canada can make up for what are sometimes significant gaps in public health coverage.
Depending on the plan, private health insurance plans in Canada cover a large percentage of costs like:
- Prescription medication
- Dental care
- Ambulance services
- Vision and prescription eyeglasses
- Physician services, surgery/anaesthesia, x-ray and laboratory services
- Accessories and medical devices bought in pharmacies
- Orthopedic shoes or podiatric orthotics
- Hearing aids
- Nursing care
Health care costs are split between you, the provincial insurer and the private insurer. Your provincial and private plans each pay a percentage. You covering the remainder.
Many private health plans offer catastrophic health insurance coverage in their plans. When an individual’s medical expenses pass a predefined maximum for the year, catastrophic coverage kicks in. At that point, their plan will then cover 100% of the cost. This caps how much an individual can pay, limiting their financial risk.
Private health insurance can be a literal lifesaver
If you or a loved one develops a serious health condition that requires expensive treatments private health insurance plan can help you to pay for it.
Why should I get a private health insurance policy?
Key reasons to pay for private health insurance coverage include:
- Getting the treatment you need, when and where you need it.
- Being covered for a wider range of services and treatments.
- Affordability and cost-effectiveness.
- Saving on unexpected expenses.
- Not having to worry about how to pay for a large health care charge on top of your other expenses like car insurance premiums or mortgage payments.
Do health insurance policies change depending on the province?
Yes. Each of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories offers its own public insurance plan. Some are significantly different. All offer basic health care services. Beyond this basic care, some are more generous than others. As a result, private health insurance policies are also different between provinces and territories.
|Province/Territory||Provincial Public Health System|
|Alberta||Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan|
|British Columbia||Medical Services Plan|
|Manitoba||Insured Benefits Branch Of Manitoba|
|Northwest Territories||NWT Health Care Plan|
|New Brunswick||New Brunswick Medicare|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||Newfoundland And Labrador Medical Care Plan|
|Nova Scotia||Nova Scotia Health|
|Nunavut||Nunavut Health Care Plan|
|Ontario||Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)|
|Prince Edward Island||Health PEI|
|Quebec||Quebec Health Insurance Plan (RAMQ)|
|Saskatchewan||Government Of Saskatchewan|
|Yukon||Health Care Insurance Plan (YHCIP)|
As the public health insurance system is so diverse in Canada, health insurance needs vary from one province to another.
Private health insurance is important for filling in needs not covered by these public systems. Use our health insurance comparator to see the best rates where you are.
How much does health insurance cost in Canada?
The cost of health insurance plans differs greatly across Canada. The average cost of health insurance coverage can depend on:
- Where you live
- The level of health insurance plan desired
- Your earnings
- Your age
Try our free health insurance comparison tool to get personalized quotes in just seconds.
How to get health insurance quotes in Canada?
There are several ways to get health insurance quotes in Canada. You can use a broker, shop for yourself, or use an internet comparator.
A private health insurance broker can help you find the best policy for you. This option can be more expensive, since you may be charged a commission- typically around 10% of the premium. Because the broker represents specific insurers and plans, shop around for quotes from several sources before making a decision.
You can also request quotes through each company to find a health insurance plan for you, but this is time-consuming.
The internet is a great resource for asking questions, comparing policies and making a selection. You can use our comparison tool to quickly and conveniently compare quotes and find the best one for your situation.
What is the best way to find a cheap health insurance plan?
The first step in finding affordable health insurance in Canada is to understand exactly what your plan covers and how it works. Compare the benefits offered and what, if any, exclusions or limitations may apply.
Selecting a suitable plan can be an ordeal. Use our online health insurance comparison tool to save money. Quickly shop the best quotes in your province, compare details and get reliable information.
Is it possible to combine health and dental insurance?
Yes, you can combine health and dental insurance under one plan and one monthly premium. Dental care is important for both your oral and your overall health. Many Canadians do not go as often as is recommended (twice per year!) because of the cost of care. Insurance can help to defray this cost.
See our article on dental insurance for a detailed summary of essential information.
Are health insurance premiums tax-deductible in Canada?
Yes. In Canada, health insurance premiums that you pay yourself are often eligible for a tax deduction under the Medical Expense Tax Credit. Premiums paid into a private insurance plan count as qualifying medical expenses assuming that 90% go towards medical expenses that are themselves eligible for the tax credit. Care like hospitalization, medical, dental, vision, and even medical devices are covered.
Plans paid by employers or provinces are not eligible for tax deductions.
Looking for a list of tax-deduction qualifying medical expenses?
This PDF from the Canada Revenue Agency details them:
How do I cancel my personal health insurance plan in Canada?
In Canada, cancelling your private health insurance plan is not difficult. Generally, you will do it in writing. Check your specific contract and contact your service provider for details.
Be aware that you may owe a penalty if your policy has not yet expired. Policies often run for a one-year term, even if payments are monthly.
Avoid bad surprises. To avoid gaps in coverage, make sure that your new insurance plan begins before your previous one lapses.
How can I purchase travel medical insurance?
You may be able to purchase travel coverage through your existing private insurer, a travel agent, or your credit card. If not, there are specialist companies.
If you are travelling, even for a short period, travel insurance is important. Outside of your province, your provincial medical plan may not cover your expenses. Outside of the country, it will not. Health care in other countries, like the neighbouring United States, can be extremely expensive. In some countries, you may even be denied critical care if you are unable to pay upfront.
What health insurance plan is best for international students?
International students attending a university in Canada are not always eligible for the country’s public health care. They are instead required to get a private health care insurer. Each province is different. In provinces where students are not eligible for public health care insurance, the universities themselves often provide a health insurance plan for their international students. It may even be mandatory and included in the tuition fees.
If you can not continue your semester due to illness, many insurance plans for international students will reimburse your tuition fees!
See our guides on health insurance in Canada:
- What is BC’s top health insurance?
- Alberta’s best private health insurance
- Is Desjardins health insurance the best for you?
- Is CAA health insurance the best for you?
- Is Canada Life health insurance the best for you?
- Is GMS health insurance the best for you?
- Is Blue Cross health insurance the best for you?
- Is ManuLife health insurance the best for you?
- Is Sun Life health insurance the best for you?
- Due date calculator
- Get a quote health insurance
- Get a quote health insurance
- Top 10 best health insurance plans in Quebec
- Ontario’s best private health insurance plans
- What are the best dental insurance plans in Canada?