How does health insurance work in Nova Scotia?

James Rodriguez James Rodriguez updated on 2022-06-07

Do you know that if you are a resident of Nova Scotia, you are eligible for public health benefits that will cover hospital, medical, dental, prostheses and optometry services that are deemed medically necessary?

The cost of medical care is rising everywhere following the COVID-19 pandemic, but it remains largely accessible in Canada thanks to the public healthcare system in place. Health care in Canada is organized at a provincial level, and it is provided by the province you reside in. While it is still strongly recommended that you have a private insurance policy to make sure you are covered for medical conditions big or small, the Nova Scotia health plan will cover things like surgeries or diagnostic testing.

Our guide will go over what the Nova Scotia Medical Service Insurance (MSI) plan covers, eligibility, how to apply for your MSI health card and why you may want private health insurance too.

What is Nova Scotia Medical Service Insurance?

Nova Scotia Medical Services Insurance (MSI) is the provincial plan of insured medical services. MSI will pay for the cost of a wide range of medically necessary physicians’ services, as well as some dental and optometric services. It is completely free to residents of Nova Scotia. 

You must show your MSI Health Card in order to receive services covered by MSI. We will explore further below how to get your card. 

What does MSI cover?

MSI covers a broad range of services; however, they need to be medically necessary and prescribed by your physician. Some examples of services that MSI will pay for are:

  • Surgical services, including the services of
  • anesthetists and surgical assistants where necessary
  • Obstetrical care, including pre-natal care, cesarean section, post-natal and newborn care or any complications of pregnancy such as miscarriage
  • Sterilization procedures, both male and female
  • Treatment of fractures and dislocations
  • Referrals to specialists, including consultations
  • Diagnostic services except those that are available
  • under the Insured Hospital Services
  • Physical examinations deemed medically necessary
  • Supervision of home dialysis
  • Well baby care
  • Pap smears and other preventative measures

Some optometric services are also covered under MSI. Routine eye exams are covered but limited to once every two years for children age 9 and younger as well as those age 65 and older. If you do not fall into those age groups, optometric services are not covered and would need to be paid for out of your own pocket or through private health insurance.

MSI covers the following dental services:

  • Certain basic dental services are insured for children aged 14 and younger. Any private coverage is accessed first. Not all preventative dental services are covered.
  • Medically required dental services may be covered with a physician’s referral.

Dental services must be received in NS. 

While MSI is generous in what services they cover, there are many services that are not covered. If you need a service or treatment that is not covered, it could end up costing you a lot of money out of pocket. We recommend purchasing a supplemental private health insurance policy to make sure you avoid substantial medical bills.

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What does MSI not cover?

MSI does cover a variety of medically necessary services but they are many things they do not cover. You would be responsible for paying for the following services:

ServiceItems not covered
AcupunctureNo acupuncture services are covered
Annual or Periodic Complete PhysicalsNot covered if no disease or symptoms
Completion of Forms
  • certificate of illness
  • government
  • insurance
  • daycare
Examination or PhysicalsTreatments unrelated to an illness or medical symptom, such as:
  • employment
  • immigration
  • insurance
  • motor vehicle or pilot licence
  • private adoption
  • school, camp or sports physical
Health Aids or Devices
  • eyeglasses and hearing aids
  • contact lenses
  • surgical appliances
  • wheelchairs
  • crutches
  • most orthotic and prosthetic appliances except those insured under the MSI Prosthetic Services Program that insures for limb prostheses, ocular prosthesis and mastectomy prosthesis
Medical Advice by Telephone, Letter, Fax or E-mailThese services are not covered under MSI
Medical-Legal Services
  • correspondence for legal purposes
  • court appearances as a witness
Medical Supplies
  • drugs, syringes, sutures and dressings
  • allergy sera, vaccines not issued by the Department of Health and Wellness
Office Expenses
  • chart transfer costs

  • photocopies
Patient Requested Services
  • cosmetic surgery (e.g. facelift, removal of tattoos)
  • cosmetic treatment of varicose veins
  • ear piercing
  • in-vitro fertilization
  • services solely delivered by osteopaths, chiropractors, dental hygienists, massage therapists
    • reversal of tubal ligation or vasectomy
Prescription Renewal when Patient is Not SeenNot covered
Miscellaneous
  • Paramedical personnel when providing counselling or treatment
  • Services of chiropractors, naturopaths, psychologists, podiatrists and osteopaths
  • Group immunizations (except those approved by the Department of Health and Wellness)
  • Services available under the Workers’ Compensation Act, Department of Veteran’s Affairs or any other statute
Services not covered under MSI

While MSI does fully cover a variety of services, there are still many services that are not covered at all. We recommend having a supplemental private health insurance plan to make sure you do not get stuck with a hefty bill for medical treatment.

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How do I apply for an MSI health card?

To apply for your Nova Scotia Medical Insurance health card, you will need to contact the MSI Registration and Inquiry Department at 902-496-7008 or at 1-800-563-8880 (toll-free within Canada), to begin the application process. Blank applications are not provided.

Applications are assessed on an individual basis and you will have to show proof of Citizenship or Immigration. Some examples of proof of citizenship include, but are not limited to:

  • Canadian birth certificate
  • Valid Canadian passport (or one that has not been expired for more than five years)
  • Canadian citizenship card or certificate (both sides)
  • NEXUS card
  • Registration of Birth Abroad
  • Canadian military ID
  • RCMP ID card
  • Proof of Canadian Old Age Security (OAS), Proof of date of birth will also need to accompany this
  • Certificate of Indian Status Card

Once your application has been processed, MSI will issue health cards for each family member. You must present your health card to health care providers before receiving insured health services.

How do I renew my MSI health card?

Your Nova Scotia MSI Health Card periodically expires and needs to bed renewed. Three months before your renewal date, MSI will mail you a Health Card Renewal form which you must complete, sign and return to MSI. Once the form is received and no additional information is required, coverage will be renewed and a new card sent out with a new expiry date.

Didn't receive the form? You can download the renewal form below or call the MSI office.

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The MSI Health Card Renewal form that Nova Scotia residents receive in the mail every 4 years has been recently updated.

Work and Study Permit holders and need to renew your MSI health card, you cannot use the Health Card Renewal form and must call MSI in order to renew their health card.

Can I renew my MSI health card online?

Unfortunately, you cannot renew your MSI health card online at this time. You will need to complete the renewal form above or call the MSI office.

What is the phone number for MSI?

If you need to contact MSI, you can do so by phone or by email. The phone number for MSI is:

  • Toll-free phone: 1-800-563-8880 (in Canada)
  • Phone: 902-496-7008

A representative will be available to assist you Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

If you would prefer to email them instead, you can email them at [email protected]

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