What is BC's Best Health Insurance?

James James updated on 17 May 2023
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Did you know that British Columbia's Medical Services Plan does not guarantee access to full dental care, vision care or prescription medications? If you find yourself without coverage for these things, it can be difficult for many people to afford care.

Canadian citizens receive universal public health insurance funded through their payroll taxes. Canada has high-quality universal care, but coverage is not all-inclusive. While emergency and preventive care are largely covered, approximately 30% of healthcare expenditures are private or paid out-of-pocket.

Our BC health insurance guide explains what is covered under the public MSP system, extended private insurance options and helps you find the best health insurance for your family. Continue reading to learn more.

How does health insurance work in BC?

British Columbia has a publicly administered and funded health care system that allows its residents to receive access to medically-necessary hospital and health care services. Its plan is called the Medical Services Plan, which is commonly abbreviated as MSP. It covers health care costs such as medically-necessary physician’s visits, maternity leave and diagnostic services like lab work and x-rays.

However, access to routine and preventative dental care, vision care and prescription medications are not covered by MSP.

In order to have these things covered and avoid what can be substantial out-of-pocket costs, we recommend purchasing supplemental private health insurance.

Watch out!

Private health insurance can protect you from paying significant health expenses yourself.

How do I get health insurance in BC?

Even if you are already enrolled in MSP, there is another step to take to be sure you have comprehensive health coverage.

You know that MSP public health insurance will cover you for the basics, but have you considered what is not covered?

A private health insurance plan will make sure you are covered for many additional unforeseen medical needs.

How do I get MSP?

If you do not already have your British Columbia health care set up yet through MSP, you will need to apply. You can apply online or by mail by completing the paper form below:

Mail your completed applications to:

Health Insurance BC

Medical Services Plan

PO Box 9678 Stn Prov Govt

Victoria BC V8W 9P7

Once you submit your MSP application online or by mail, it may take up to two months to process it. You will receive your BC Services card by mail to the address that is indicated on your application form. If your address has changed since the time you submitted your application, contact MSP as soon as possible to provide them with your updated address.

Good to know

See our MSP guide for more information on BC's public health insurance.

How do I get private health insurance in BC?

For full comprehensive health coverage beyond what is covered by MSP, you will need to purchase private, or supplemental, health insurance.

The public health insurance provided through MSP will cover the basics and many emergencies, but it is important to consider services not be covered through MSP. Have a plan to pay for them. A comprehensive private health insurance plan will offer peace of mind. It will cover you for many unforeseen medical needs.

Ready to start shopping for private health insurance plans? Find the right one for you and your family using our free and anonymous health insurance comparison tool for a personalized quote in just seconds.

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Canada's best health insurance plans

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Plans can also be purchased by contacting an insurance broker or the insurers one at a time by telephone or via their websites.

What is not covered by MSP?

MSP provides full coverage for some services deemed medically necessary by a physician including diagnostic services such as laboratory and radiological, hospital visits and stays. Additionally, some dental and oral surgical health services performed in a public hospital are covered.

While MSP does pay for a variety of medical services, there are many things that it does not include.

MSP does not pay for:

  • Dental services
  • Routine eye examinations for adults aged 19 to 64
  • Eyeglasses, hearing aids
  • Prescription drugs*
  • Cosmetic services
  • Alternative medicine treatments including acupuncture, chiropracty, massage therapy and naturopathy
  • Preventive services and screening tests that are not supported by evidence of medical effectiveness
  • Counsellors or psychologists

Paying for services not covered under MSP can become a financial burden. This is why we highly recommend getting a private insurance plan.

Good to know

*Note that low-to-moderate income households may receive financial assistance on prescription medication through the PharmaCare or Fair PharmaCare programs. See our comprehensive guide to MSP for more information.

What is extended health care coverage?

Extended health care coverage in BC refers to a supplemental plan that pays for dental cover, prescription drugs, vision, health care services and equipment beyond what the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia covers. Travel insurance is also often seen in an extended health care coverage plan.

What is the best extended health care insurance in BC?

There are many private individual health insurance plans available in BC. Which provider and plan are best for your personal circumstance. Click on the links below to read reviews of health insurance providers. Comparing BC health insurance plans to make sure you are getting the best coverage available.

Try HelloSafe’s comparison tool to quickly and anonymously compare health insurance plans in British Columbia:

Compare coverage and rates of
Canada's best health insurance plans

Get a quote in seconds

What does private health insurance cover in BC?

Private health insurance exists to cover most of what universal health insurance will not. MSP will cover minimal services which your physician will need to deem medically necessary. Unfortunately, these services are usually limited to doctor’s visits, laboratory work, very minimal dental coverage and vision services only for select age groups.

Wondering what private insurance will cover in comparison to MSP? You will notice it is a much broader umbrella of services spanning health, comprehensive dental services, vision and prescription drug coverage.

TreatmentMSPPrivate Health Insurance
Health Care
  • Medically necessary physician’s visits
  • Maternity care
  • Diagnostic services (labs, x-rays)
  • Preferred hospital accommodations (semi-private or private rooms)
  • Hospital cash
  • Hospital beds
  • Home nursing
  • Auxiliary care
Paramedical Services
Not covered
  • Chiropractic services
  • Massage therapy
  • Physiotherapists
  • Psychologists

(Some providers will also cover traditional Chinese medicine)
Prescription Drugs
Not covered
  • Covered, limits will be dependent on plan/provider
Dental (various waiting periods apply)
  • Medically-necessary oral surgery performed in a hospital
  • Basic/preventative (check-ups, cleanings, fillings)
  • Dentures, periodontics, orthodontics

(Reimbursement limits are dependent on plan/provider)
  • Medically necessary eye examinations for adults aged 19-64
  • Annual eye examinations for children under 18 and seniors over 65+

  • Covered, limits will be dependent on plan/provider
Not Covered
  • Covered, limits will be dependent on plan/provider
BC MSP vs private health insurance coverage

Private health insurance covers more services and gives greater flexibility on hospital stays including nursing services or semi or fully private rooms.

Paramedical services are also generally covered:

  • Chiropractic visits
  • Massage therapists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Psychologists

Vision, comprehensive dental and prescription drug coverage are also available through a private health insurance plan.

For example, the removal of healthy wisdom teeth, even if impacted, is not covered by MSP, but it is by private dental insurance.

While coverage and benefits vary from provider to provider, these are vital services that can not only be preventative in nature but save you from paying substantial out-of-pocket costs.

Does the Medical Services Plan cover vision?

Unfortunately, BC’s MSP plan does not cover most routine optical care for adults. This means private dental insurance may be needed to pay for eye exams, glasses and contact lenses. MSP does, however, cover medically-required vision care including some medications, systemic diseases and ocular injury and disease.

Children and seniors over 65 are eligible for an annual eye examination.

If you are an adult who receives income or disability assistance can access some vision care. This includes $48.90 for routine eye exams every second year and up to $68.26 for glasses frames, along with lenses and repairs.

How much are eye exams in BC?

Estimate a range of $75 to $200+ for a typical routine eye exam in British Columbia. There is no standard price for eye examinations, and prices vary dramatically between providers and by location.

If you are eligible for Optical Supplements as an adult benefiting from income assistance, eye exams by optometrists are covered at $44.83, while those from ophthalmologists are covered at $48.90. Be sure to check with your provider before service and to bring your Care Card.

Does the Medical Services Plan cover dental?

Unfortunately, British Columbia’s Medical Service plan does not cover routine dental care. This means paying out of pocket for dental cleanings, restorative services and wisdom teeth removal. Coverage for routine dental care is one of the main advantages of a private supplementary health insurance policy.

Diagnostic services ordered by a medical professional are covered, as well as most dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital.

Note that dental care for people who receive income or disability assistance may be available. Covered services include routine dental care and restoration, partial dentures and, in some circumstances, crowns and bridges. Children eligible for low-income dental assistance can receive up to $2000 in dental care every two years.

Good to know

Want to know more? See our BC dental insurance guide

How much does health insurance cost in BC?

A 35-year old male, with no pre-existing conditions, would expect to pay $170.60 per month with Manulife for full comprehensive hospital, dental and prescription drug coverage. This cost will vary depending on the level of coverage you chose for your specific health needs.

Other factors that may affect premiums would include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Lifestyle including smoker status
  • Pre-existing conditions that may apply
  • Specific coverages (i.e dental, prescription drug cover)
  • Provider

You may be asking yourself what benefits you would be eligible for under a similar comprehensive plan and price. Here is an example of what to expect:

TreatmentEnhanced Extended Health Care Plan (Manulife)
Health Care
  • Unlimited semi-private or private room accommodation, up to a maximum of $150/day

Paramedical Services
  • Year 1 & 2: $750/year
  • Year 3 & 4: $800/year
  • Year 5+: $850
  • Maximum for chiropractic x-rays: $35/year
Prescription Drugs
  • 90% of expenses for brand-name or generic drugs
  • Full coverage of dispensing fees

  • Year 1: $800
  • Year 2: $900
  • Year 3+: $1,200
  • Up to 100% of expenses for basic services
  • Up to 80% of expenses for specialized procedures
  • 60% of expenses to a maximum of $750 every 3 years

  • Year 1 & 2: $350
  • Year 3 & 4: $400
  • Year 5+: $450
  • Unlimited air and ground transportation
Example of coverage on a private health care plan in BC

Is it possible to combine health and dental insurance in BC?

It is possible to combine health and dental insurance in BC. In fact, it is standard practice for benefit providers across Canada.

If you are covered by another extended health and/or dental plan, you can combine plans to maximize your overall coverage and reduce or even eliminate your out-of-pocket costs.

We recommend you obtain an extended health plan while you are healthy as most times coverage will not apply to pre-existing conditions. To shop for combined health and dental insurance try HelloSafe's insurance comparison tool.

How do I cancel my personal health insurance plan in BC?

We do not recommend cancelling your private health insurance plan in BC, without first having another lined up. If your circumstances require you to do so, you will need to contact your specific provider directly. Each provider will have different requirements in regard to what steps to take to cancel your policy.

Keep in mind that you may have to pay a penalty if you cancel your policy before its expiry date.

We also recommend that you ask your insurance company to confirm in writing that your insurance policy was cancelled.

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Joan M.

I am 76 and planning to move to penticton bc. for a year. I currently have insurance coverage in the US. I have asthma but don't use medication. Otherwise I am in excellent health. What would it cost to have complete coverage excluding dental.

James James Our expert

Hi Joan,
The best way to find out is to use the comparator tool at the top of the page. Select your age and the coverage you need and you will get instant estimations of insurance policies that fit your profile.
You can then contact the company directly to get an exact quote.

Have a nice day,
The HelloSafe team

Barbara K.

I am 72 years of age in good health and wish to have more prescription coverage than what MSP covers. What are the premium costs?

James James Our expert

Hi Barbara,
Costs depends on the insurer. I suggest you get in touch with the company of your choice to get a quote.

Have a nice day,
The HelloSafe team