Understanding Healthcare in Canada

Canada's healthcare system is primarily funded by the federal government and is completely free for those eligible.  Free healthcare is certainly a big thing in developed economies due to prohibitive costs of a private system. Once I had taken my father-in-law, who was here on a tourist visa, to a walk-in clinic and just seeing the Doctor was charged as $110. There are stories of people who did not buy private insurance and racked up a debt of $100k due to an urgent surgery. Doctors are usually reimbursed by the government at a negotiated flat-fee basis. There was recently a strike in Canada where Doctors protested that they were being paid too much. Canadian government spends more than 10% of its GDP on healthcare. Travel insurance shall be covered in a separate post. While Canadians are guaranteed access to hospital and physician services, it is upto each province to offer supplementary benefits like dental. In Ontario dental and eye care services are private and not covered by the public healthcare system. Please read this link to know more about the health care in Ontario.

Eligibility for free healthcare

Permanent Residents get the benefit of free healthcare but different provinces have different rules of coverage. If you land in Ontario, you must be physically present in Ontario for 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after you began living here. Read more about who qualifies for Ontario healthcare. Other provinces apart from Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec offer immediate coverage as far as i know. Quebec too makes exceptions for pregnancy and certain other conditions. However, you have to commit to living in these provinces for some time otherwise you are liable to have committed healthcare fraud. That's why buying a suitable insurance plan is extremely critical while waiting for your healthcare coverage. You may read about the free healthcare services for newcomers.

How to apply for OHIP Card?

Permanent Resident's who decide to land and reside in Ontario are eligible for a Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) after a waiting period of 153 days. You can apply for an OHIP card as soon as you land but you will receive the card only after the stipulated time period. Thus there is no harm in applying early in case you have the required documents. The requirements are:

  1. Proof of citizenship or OHIP Eligible status
  2. Proof of residency
  3. Support of Identity

Get the detailed list of documents.

You can either use this Online OHIP Registration Form or go to the nearest Service Ontario office.

Concept of Family Doctors

A Family Doctor is your primary care service provider to take care of your comprehensive healthcare needs. Once you arrive in Canada, you will need to call up and find a Doctor who is accepting new patients. A severe shortage of Doctors means that it is quite difficult to find the ones who are still accepting new patients. Read more about how to find a family Doctor in this article.

Concept of Walk-in Clinics

Walk-in Clinics are exactly what they sound. They provide healthcare to people who do not have a family doctor or have one but are unable to reach them. You can visit a doctor at a Walk-in-Clinic without prior appointment for treatment of minor issues. Click here to search the Clinics open at your current time. You can also refer to iamsick.ca which is an excellent resource for locating the type of doctor that you need.

Emergency Healthcare

The emergency number for healthcare is 911. An ambulance might get dispatched to you with a typical call to dispatch time being 2 minutes in case you decide to call 911. Else you can choose to walk in to the nearest hospital. You may read this link What to expect in Emergency. Read here about some of the Best and Worst Hospitals in Toronto. Any patient that goes to an Emergency Center is graded based on the criticality of condition. While a heart attack will be top priority, something like a bone fracture comes under category 3. That essentially means that if you go there for condition like an upset stomach, you might have to wait for 5-6 hours to see a Doctor. I had one experience of going to Mount Sinai Hospital on a weekend night and waited 6 hours to finally see a doctor. I saw quite a few patients who waited for a couple of hours and simply left as they were fed up of waiting. In fact Canadian waiting times for healthcare are among the lowest in the developed world. Healthcare is so expensive that government cannot garner enough resources to boost the per capita availability of doctors. While it is certainly depressing to know there are quite a few positives of healthcare in Canada.

The best thing about Canadian healthcare system

While most people rate free healthcare as the best thing, I have a different opinion coming from a developing country with a flourishing private healthcare system. Because of public financing and long waiting times, Doctors here do not have an incentive to over-prescribe medications or suggest surgeries. Getting impartial advice is a critical thing for managing most chronic diseases. Canada's survival rates for certain cancers are the best in the world. Back in my home country I had a hard time finding genuine medical advice despite plenty of highly qualified doctors and had to resort to multiple advice or searching for a 'connection'.

Ravi Yadav

Ravi is a former entrepreneur and a corporate finance professional having pursued his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. He recently moved with his family to Toronto as Permanent Residents. He acts as a volunteer with the City of Toronto and is passionate about motivating and coaching newcomers. Please note that this website does not provide any legal advice and is for information purposes only published in good faith.

Ravi Yadav