Private Healthcare in Canada

Private healthcare in Canada is a restricted, but growing sector within the Canadian healthcare system.

Public healthcare is one of the hallmarks of the Canadian social security system and is highly lauded. In 2017, total health expenditure in Canada was expected to reach $242 billion, or $ 6,604 per person. Overall, health spending represents around 11.5% of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP).

However, in addition to public health care providers such as primary care doctors and hospitals, many private clinics offering specialized services also operate in Canada. Private healthcare has grown quite a bit, with the private health sector in Canada now taking nearly a third of total health expenditures, largely in the form of out-of-pocket payments and private extended health insurance. That’s because important health services like prescription drugs, mental health supports, dental care, optometry, physiotherapy and home and community care largely fall outside the scope of public coverage, much more so than in Europe.

Under federal law, private clinics are not legally allowed to provide services covered by the Canada Health Act. Regardless of this legal issue, many private clinics still do offer such services.

Private clinics’ advantage is they generally offer services with wait times that are reduced when compared with the health care system, which may have a lot of issues regarding long wait times for procedures. For instance, getting an MRI scan at a hospital could need a period of months, whereas it could be obtained much quicker in a practice.

Currently, private clinics are a subject of much controversy. There are varying views around private clinics, and there are those who argue for its contributions, and there are those who criticize them. One of the main criticisms is that their existence unbalances the health care system and favors treatments to those with higher incomes. Costs in private clinics are usually covered by private insurance policies, which will typically pay around 80% of the costs.

However, proponents say that private healthcare will make the system more efficient, benefiting Canadians. Canadians endure some of the longest wait times for medically necessary procedures. In 2015, for example, Canadians waited an average of 18.3 weeks from the moment they were referred by a GP until actually getting treatment. Canadian patients also suffer from accessibility to physicians and medical technologies.

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