Canada's health care system - (2024)

Learn about Canada's health care system, including Medicare, funding, accessing health care services and delivery.

On this page

  • About Medicare
  • Federal funding for health care
  • Accessing health care services

About Medicare

Medicare is a term that refers to Canada's publicly funded health care system. Instead of having a single national plan, we have 13 provincial and territorial health care insurance plans. Under this system, all Canadian residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services without paying out-of-pocket.

Roles and responsibilities for health care services are shared between provincial and territorial governments and the federal government.

The provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the management, organization and delivery of health care services for their residents.

The federal government is responsible for:

  • setting and administering national standards for the health care system through the Canada Health Act
  • providing funding support for provincial and territorial health care services
  • supporting the delivery for health care services to specific groups
  • providing other health-related functions

Canada Health Act

Provincial and territorial health care insurance plans must meet the standards described in the Canada Health Act. This is necessary to get their full payment under the Canada Health Transfer.

These standards include:

  • public administration
  • comprehensiveness
  • universality
  • portability
  • accessibility

Public administration

The provincial and territorial plans must be administered and operated on a non profit basis by a public authority.


The provincial and territorial plans must insure all medically necessary services provided by:

  • hospitals
  • physicians
  • dentists, when the service must be performed in a hospital

Medically necessary services are not defined in the Canada Health Act. The provincial and territorial health care insurance plans consult with their respective physician colleges or groups. Together, they decide which services are medically necessary for health care insurance purposes.

If a service is considered medically necessary, the full cost must be covered by the public health care insurance plan.


The provincial and territorial plans must cover all residents.


The provincial and territorial plans must cover all residents when they travel within Canada. Limited coverage is also required for travel outside the country.

When a resident moves to another province, they can continue to use their original health care insurance card for 3 months. This gives them enough time to register for the new plan and receive their new health insurance card.


The provincial and territorial plans must provide all residents reasonable access to medically necessary services. Access must be based on medical need and not the ability to pay.

Federal funding for health care

The federal government provides health care funding to the provinces and territories through the Canada Health Transfer.

Provinces and territories receive additional federal funding support through other fiscal transfers.

Delivering health care services to specific groups

We provide certain direct health care services to some population groups, including:

  • First Nations people living on reserves
  • Inuit
  • serving members of the Canadian Forces
  • eligible veterans
  • inmates in federal penitentiaries
  • some groups of refugee claimants

Other federal health-related functions

We are responsible for the regulation of products, such as:

  • food
  • consumer products
  • pharmaceuticals
  • cosmetics
  • chemicals
  • pesticides
  • medical devices
  • radiation-emitting devices like cellphones

The federal government also supports:

  • health research
  • health promotion and protection
  • disease monitoring and prevention

The government also provides tax support for health-related costs:

  • tax credits for:
    • disability
    • medical expenses
    • caregivers and disabled dependents
  • tax rebates to public institutions for health services
  • deductions for private health insurance premiums for the self-employed

Accessing health care services

Canadians most often turn to primary health care services as their first point of contact with the health care system.

In general, primary health care:

  • delivers first-contact health care services
  • coordinates patients' health care services to support:
    • continuity of care, which means receiving high quality care from diagnosis to recovery
    • ease of movement across the health care system when more specialized services are needed from specialists or in hospitals

The provinces and territories also provide supplemental coverage to certain groups of people, such as:

  • seniors
  • children
  • social assistance recipients

This helps pay for health care services that are not generally covered under the publicly funded health care system. These services include:

  • vision care
  • dental care
  • prescription drugs
  • ambulance services
  • independent living (home care)

Those who do not qualify for supplementary benefits under government plans pay for these services through:

  • out-of-pocket payments
  • private health insurance plans

For more information

Canada's health care system - (2024)


What is the current health care system in Canada? ›

Canada has universal health coverage funded through a health system called Medicare. It was created from the Canada Health Act and must comply with the five pillars of that act. The system must be universal, publicly administered, have comprehensive coverage, portable across provinces, and accessible to the population.

Is health care in Canada free? ›

All Canadian citizens and permanent residents receive medically necessary hospital and physician services free at the point of use. This does not mean, however, that healthcare is free in Canada. Most government funds for Canadian Medicare, as their health system is called, come from collected taxes.

How good is Canada's healthcare system? ›

A recent analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study showed that Canada was in the top 10% of the 195 countries that were compared on the Healthcare Access and Quality Index, ranking above several countries that scored higher in the Commonwealth Fund Report.

Do Canadian citizens need health insurance in Canada? ›

Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are covered under the government health insurance plan. You must have a provincial health insurance card from the province or territory where you live.

Is Canadian healthcare better than American? ›

Canada fares better than the United States with regard to coverage, cost, and health outcomes. While overall access is better in Canada, patients are sometimes required to endure longer wait times than in the United States.

Are surgeries free in Canada? ›

Patients do not have to pay any fees to receive required medical care in a hospital or at a physician's office. Covered services include childbirth, surgery, and prescription drugs given in a hospital.

Can you use Medicare in Canada? ›

In most situations, Medicare won't pay for health care or supplies you get outside the U.S. The term “outside the U.S.” means anywhere other than the 50 states of the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Do Canadians pay for health insurance? ›

Health care in Canada is not free—while Canadians may not pay directly for medical services, they pay a substantial amount of money for health care through taxes.

How much do Canadians have to pay for healthcare? ›

According to a new study from the Fraser Institute, a family of two adults and two children with a household income of an average $156,086 will pay an estimated $15,847 for public healthcare in 2022.

What is the biggest problem in healthcare in Canada? ›

CharacteristicPercentage of respondents
Not enough staff63%
Access to treatment/long waiting times47%
Ageing population29%
8 more rows
Sep 28, 2023

What are the disadvantages of Canada's healthcare system? ›

Canada's healthcare system has been criticized for its lack of investment in cutting-edge medical technology and treatments. Some critics argue that the system's focus on providing basic care for all Canadians can sometimes lead to a lack of funding and investment in advanced medical technology and treatments.

Do Canadians like their healthcare system? ›

The study, conducted for the Montreal Economic Institute by the survey agency, shows 48 per cent of Canadians are not pleased with the country's health care system. The poll was published April 6, 2023.

Which country has the best healthcare in the world? ›

The Best Healthcare Systems in the World in 2024

What country has the best healthcare, according to this assessment? Singapore comes in at No. 1! Other countries with the best healthcare are listed below.

Is emergency care free in Canada? ›

Canada offers free emergency medical treatment regardless of immigration status, and you don't need a health card. However, going to the nearest hospital in case of an emergency is recommended, as some walk-in clinics may charge fees if you're not a resident of that province or territory.

Do US citizens get free healthcare in Canada? ›

Can You be Denied Healthcare in Canada? Canadian citizens and permanent residents are entitled to free public healthcare, while tourists and visitors are not. However, anyone in Canada can seek private healthcare.

What is the most common health care system in Canada? ›

Canadian Medicare provides coverage for approximately 70 percent of Canadians' healthcare needs, and the remaining 30 percent is paid for through the private sector.

How much do Canadians pay for healthcare? ›

average payment for public health care insur- ance ranges from $4,190 to $14,474 for six com- mon Canadian family types, depending on the type of family. the lowest incomes will pay an average of about $471 for public health care insurance in 2020.

What is the biggest healthcare issue in Canada? ›

A 2022 survey found that 63 percent of Canadian individuals indicated a lack of staff was the biggest problem facing the national healthcare system. Access to treatment and/or long waiting times were also considered to be pressing issues.

Where does Canada rank in healthcare quality? ›

Introduction. Canada ranked 25th in the 2022 World Index of Healthcare Innovation, down from 23rd in 2021 and 17th in 2020. Canada's overall ranking was dragged down by its 17th and 29th showings, respectively, in Science & Technology and Fiscal Sustainability. Canada ranked 12th for Quality and 16th for Choice.

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