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.
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.
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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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.
*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.
- 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
Try HelloSafe’s comparison tool to quickly and anonymously compare health insurance plans in British Columbia:
Compare coverage and rates of
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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.
|Treatment||MSP||Private Health Insurance|
|Paramedical Services||Not covered|
(Some providers will also cover traditional Chinese medicine)
|Prescription Drugs||Not covered|
|Dental (various waiting periods apply)|
(Reimbursement limits are dependent on plan/provider)
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
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.
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:
- Lifestyle including smoker status
- Pre-existing conditions that may apply
- Specific coverages (i.e dental, prescription drug cover)
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:
|Treatment||Enhanced Extended Health Care Plan (Manulife)|
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 regards 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.