As with every country, it is important that international students planning on studying in Canada familiarize themselves with the health care system in Canada. Many international students will find that the Canadian health care system functions quite differently from that of their home country.
As a member of the British Commonwealth, Canada has excellent public health and sanitation. Visitors and international students are expected to maintain a full set of vaccinations.
Canada has a government-funded, national health care system based on the Canadian Health Act. The principles of this law are to provide a health service that is universally available to permanent residents, is without income barriers, has comprehensive coverage, is portable within Canada and elsewhere, and is administered publicly.
Medical treatment in Canada is government-controlled and rationed. The health care system is comprised of a set of publically-funded health care plans, each administered on a province or territory basis. Under these plans, citizens are issued a health care card that allows them access to free basic and preventive health care. Each province and territory must provide its residents with prepaid cover for all necessary medical services such as financing, planning, providing medical care, hospital care, public health care, and dispensing prescriptions. However, there are many services, such as dental treatment, optometric services, prescription drugs, hearing aids, and home care which may or may not be covered by the health care card, depending on province or territory. As such, most Canadian citizens also purchase some level of private insurance to supplement the public health care system.
The quality of health care in Canada varies from province to province. In rural communities and those further up north, health care may not be quite up to the standards of its southern counterparts.
Another major issue in Canadian hospitals is patient waiting times among patients to see specialists, undergo elective surgery, or get diagnostic tests. According to the Fraser Institute, waiting times have increased from 13.1 weeks in 1999 to 17.9 weeks in 2004. The severity of this problem is indicated by crowded emergency rooms.
In 2004, the federal government and the provinces came to a C$41 billion 10-year agreement intended to improve Canada’s health care system. A major part of this agreement is an attempt to reduce waiting times; in fact, a “Wait Times Reduction Fund” has been drafted in order to allow provinces to hire more health care professionals, increase their capacity, clear backlogs, and increase ambulatory and community care programs. The provinces are prepared to set targets for acceptable wait times and plan to establish a common set of criteria gauge wait times across Canada.
Overall, Canadians report that they are generally satisfied with the quality of health care in their country! In 2002-2003, a Joint Canada/United States Survey of Health by Statistics Canada and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that 87% of Canadians are “somewhat” to “very satisfied” with their healthcare services.