A Comparison Of Canada's Biggest Health Insurance Companies

A Comparison Of Canada's Biggest Health Insurance Companies

With the rapid increase of the side hustle economy, more and more Canadians are left without employer-issued health insurance.

If you're part of this growing number, it could be beneficial to learn about your options before you go with the first insurance company you find.

And even if your employer does offer you insurance, is it a good plan? Are there better options out there to suit your needs? Or even just to supplement what you already have?

Want to cut to the chase and compare Canada's biggest health insurance companies? Download this printable chart – it's free!

So before you get stuck with a huge bill and zero coverage (or decide to skip your dentist appointment for the 4th year in a row…), let's take a look at health insurance options in Canada:

Do you need health insurance in Canada?

Canada's healthcare system pays for basic healthcare services, including doctor visits and emergency care. You're qualified to receive this coverage through your province as a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

If you're having a medical emergency, you have a lot of things on your mind. Thankfully, in Canada, how you're going to pay for it isn't one of them.

That doesn't mean everything healthcare related is free. In fact, 30% of our health costs are either privately insured or paid for out of pocket. These costs include:

  • prescription medications,
  • dental care,
  • physiotherapy,
  • ambulance services, and
  • prescription eyeglasses.

But will it save you money?

It can, depending on your situation.

It's true that a lot of insurance is sold for the peace of mind it gives, which often means paying for something that you don't need in case you do need it in the future.

But if you're on prescription medication, need regular physiotherapy sessions, or practice better-than-average dental care, health insurance will most likely save you money on a regular basis.

Take a personal example

My prescription medication costs about $180 per month without insurance.

Using Blue Cross's instant quote, I could get a plan for $78.75 per month that includes 80% coverage on prescription medication. This means I'd have to pay $36 out of pocket, plus the health insurance premium:

$78.75 premium + $36 out of pocket expense = $114.75

I'm already saving $65.25 a month in prescription coverage alone, and this plan comes with many other benefits, including 60% reimbursement for Visual and Dental care.

This, of course, looks different for everyone. But it's worth considering if you have regular health-related expenses.

Types of health insurance in Canada

There are several different types of health insurance available in Canada, some of which may be more or less relevant to you depending on your stage in life.

Provincial health coverage

Each province has its own way of doing health coverage, which you can find out about through their ministries of health:

Your province will cover most basic needs (like doctor visits) but doesn't cover other essentials (like dentistry and prescription medicine). For this reason, many Canadians have additional health coverage, either privately or through their employer.

Personal health insurance

Personal health insurance (AKA supplementary health insurance) covers what your province doesn't. It's especially useful for prescription medicine costs and specialized doctor coverage, like the dentist or physiotherapist.

Many plans can extend to cover your family as well.

Group health insurance

Group health insurance is what you get through your employer. Your company purchases the coverage then offers it to their employees, often at a discounted price to what you'd pay individually. It also sometimes includes life insurance benefits.

You can further supplement your group health insurance by opting for upgrades on the same plan or buying additional personal health insurance. Just make sure you're not paying twice for the same benefit.

Disability insurance

Disability insurance specifically covers you if you can no longer work due to a disability, whether it's a temporary or permanent condition. It covers a portion of your salary in monthly payouts for a period of time or up to a certain maximum.

This can sometimes be bought in addition to your private or group insurance as an add-on.

Critical illness insurance

Upon being diagnosed with a critical illness and surviving for a specified period of time, critical illness insurance will pay you a one-time lump sum, regardless if you're able to work or not.

Long term care insurance

Long term care insurance provides coverage for things like nursing homes. As such, this insurance is more relevant for ages 60+.

You could consider switching out your disability insurance for long term care once you're retired (or close to) since you no longer have a salary to cover.

Travel medical insurance

Travel medical insurance specifically covers medical expenses that occur while travelling outside of Canada. If you're an avid traveller, this may be something to consider for some extra peace of mind while abroad.

Health insurance comparison chart Canada

Here's a chart that compares the main options of the biggest health insurance companies in Canada.

The table scrolls horizontally by using the slider at the bottom.

Company Customize? Plan
Sunlife Basic
Manulife DrugPlus Basic
    DrugPlus Enhanced
    DentalPlus Basic
    DentalPlus Advanced
    ComboPlus Starter
    ComboPlus Basic
    ComboPlus Enhanced
Blue Cross Entry
CAA Option 1
    Option 2
    Option 3
Costco Starter
Great West Core
    Core Plus
Prescription Prescription max Dental Dental max Paramedical Paramedical max Vision Vision max
60% $750/year 60% reimbursement $500/year 60% $250/year, $25/visit X X
70%-100% $100,000/year 70% reimbursement $750/year 100% $300/year 100% reimbursement $150/2 years
80%-100% $250,000/year 80% $750/year 100% $400/year 100% $200/2 years
Up to max $5,000 x x x x Up to max $250/2 years
Up to max $10,000 x x x x Up to max $250/2 years
x x Up to max $575-$750/year x x Up to max $250/2 years
x x Up to max $840-$920/year x x Up to max $250/2 years
Up to max $525 Up to max $400 x x Up to max $150/2 years
Up to max $5,000 Up to max $750 x x Up to max $250/2 years
Up to max $10,000 Up to max $920 x x Up to max $250/2 years
x x 60% $500/year 60% Varies Up to max $100/2 years
70%-100% x 70% None 70% Varies Up to max $150/2 years
80%-100% x 80% None 80% Varies Up to max $300/2 years
x x 80% $650-$900/year Up to max $400/year Up to max $100-$200/year
70% $500/year 80% $650-$900/year Up to max $400/year Up to max $100-$200/year
75% $5,000/year 80% $650-$900/year Up to max $400/year Up to max $100-$200/year
70% $525/year 70% 350/year Up to max Varies Up to max $150/2 years
70%-90% $5,000/year 50%-80% $665/year Up to max Varies Up to max $250/2 years
90%-100% $10,000/year 60%-90% $920/year Up to max Varies Up to max $500/3 years
70% $500/year 70%-100% $350/year 100% $300/year 100% $150/2 years
80% $10,000/year 80%-100% $750/year 100% $400/year 100% $200/2 years
90%-100% $250,000/year 50%-100% $750/year 100% $500/year 100% $250/2 years

Keep in mind this is just an overview. More details can be found on their individual websites.

Want a printable version of this comparison chart? Download the PDF – it's free!

Canadian health insurance companies

Let's go into a little more detail about what these companies actually offer.

Sunlife health insurance

Sunlife has 3 different plans for you to choose from, each of which include prescription, dental, and paramedical coverage. Vision is offered in the 2 higher-tier plans.

You can also purchase disability and critical illness insurance from Sunlife, but there's no option to add them as an extra to your plan.

The extras they do offer are:

  • semi-private hospital stays,
  • preventative dental,
  • restorative dentist, and
  • orthodontics.

The availability of these extras depends on the plan you choose.

Manulife health insurance

Of all the companies we looked at, Manulife has the most choice when it comes to the number of plans available (excluding the customizable plans).

Choose from 7 plans with varying coverage, including:

  • 2 prescription-focused plans,
  • 2 dental-focused plans, and
  • 3 combination options.

With Manulife, you have the option to add on hospital, additional vision care, travel, accidental death and dismemberment, and catastrophic insurance to your plan.

You can also buy stand-alone coverage for hospital and catastrophic insurance.

Blue Cross health insurance

Blue Cross's health insurance is highly customizable, giving you various modules you can choose to add on as you please. The only restriction is that you need to have some health coverage to start with.

Available extras include:

  • critical illness insurance,
  • hospital cash (where they'll pay you a certain dollar amount every day you're in the hospital), and
  • assured access (where you can put your plan on hold if you acquire group coverage).

Their website even gives you super convenient immediate quotes that are worth taking a look at.

CAA health insurance

CAA also offers some great customization options, letting you choose your health, drug, and dental coverage separately. They also suggest 3 plans in case you're overwhelmed by choice.

Their extended medical coverage includes interesting extras such as speech therapists, hearing aids, and orthotics. Coverage and maximums vary by practice.

Costco health insurance

Costco members can get health insurance through the warehouse giant.

What's interesting about Costco's service is that travel coverage is included in all 3 plans, as long as you're under the age of 65. It also has various extra coverage, such as survivor benefits and physiotherapists.

Great-West Life health insurance

Great-West Life offers 3 health insurance plans, with the option to add other benefits to each of them.

These optional benefits include:

  • accidental death, dismemberment, and specific loss,
  • emergency travel medical,
  • hospital accommodation,
  • hospital cash, and
  • major dental.

In addition, the plans themselves come with ambulance, in-home nursing, medical supplies, and hearing aids coverage.

Desjardins health insurance

Though a popular health insurance company, Desjardins's website has little information on their specific coverage rates and maximums. They do state that their plans are personalizable (which is a plus) and may include travel insurance.

Check out their website for more information and their contact details.

RBC health insurance

Though RBC doesn't offer health insurance specifically, they do offer coverage that's sometimes included in health plans, including:

  • disability insurance,
  • critical illness insurance, and
  • hospital insurance.

It may be worth looking into as an alternative if you're interested in these options.

Frequently asked questions

Still have some unanswered questions? Don't worry, we've answered some of the most common ones here.

What's the best health insurance in Canada?

As always, it's not really possible to give a concrete answer to this question. It all depends on what you're looking for and what matters to you and your situation.

For example, Blue Cross certainly had the best website and customizability that we encountered, but their drug coverage left something to be desired.

It's beneficial to shop around and ask for quotes from the companies you're interested in. Bringing it down to a matter of price will make the choice much easier for you.

What about pet health insurance?

Canada does have some pretty good options for pet health insurance...which would come in handy when faced with the difficult decision of how much is too much to spend on your furry friend.

Here are 4 of the most popular companies:

What's the average cost of private health insurance per month in Canada?

According to this 2017 report, Canadians pay $902 in out-of-pocket health and $756 in private health insurance per year on average. This works out to $75.17 and $63 per month, respectively.

Are health insurance premiums tax deductible in Canada?

Yes, premiums you pay to private health care are tax deductible. Visit this page for more details.

What about you?

Is your health insurance covered by your employer? Or do you have to take care of it yourself?

...Or do you not have health insurance at all?

Let us know in the comments!

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

Editorial Disclaimer: The content here reflects the author's opinion alone, and is not endorsed or sponsored by a bank, credit card issuer, rewards program or other entity.

Hot Credit Card Deals This Month:

  • COMING SOON: No foreign transaction fees + up to 5X reward multipliers
    • Coming August 1 to all cardholders:
    • 0% foreign transaction fees – a 2.5% savings.
    • 5X points on groceries, dining, and entertainment.
    • 3X points on gas, daily transit, and select streaming services.
    • Apply today to qualify for the lower $99 annual fee this year.
  • Pay Your Balance Faster with 0% Interest for 10 Months
    • Best introductory balance transfer offer in Canada right now.
    • Pay off pre-existing credit card debt with a 0% promotional balance transfer rate.
    • No annual fee and no minimum income requirements.
    • Offer not available to residents of Quebec.
  • Best credit card in Canada for 2 years in a row
    • Our top rated credit card in Canada in 2018 and 2019.
    • Earn up to 30,000 points as a welcome bonus in the first year.
    • 5 points per $1 spent on groceries and dining.
    • 2 points per $1 spent on travel, transit and gas purchases.
    • Monthly fee of $10 instead of an annual fee.
  • Rate Your Wallet in 3 minutes or less. Take the quiz


Geoff's picture

You ask the question: "Do you need health care in Canada?" but your answer seems to be missing a significant point that I would have thought you would explore, given you are a "how to save money" guru.

So, does the 'average' person save money if they buy supplemental insurance? I would argue the answer has to be no. If it is typically cheaper to buy insurance, then the insurance companies are either somehow getting a kick-back from the health suppliers, or they are losing money. What insurance does is provide 'peace of mind.' As some unpredictable costs can exceed many peoples rainy day fund, it can be devastating. Insurance companies major promotional tool is fear, a motivator that exceeds logic. The best source to explore this cognitive bias: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow

However, for a lot of people, it does not pay, at least with some coverage. I have never paid for comprehensive coverage for my car. I have never owned a brand new or particularly expensive car, so the maximum loss was always a non-devastating danger. I self-insured, and over the last 40 years have saved thousands, even after paying for a couple of windshields (a bird and a burglar). I would argue that the same typically should apply for dental or prescription coverage, which I never paid for privately. The math is pretty easy to explore.

March 06, 2019 @ 6:12 am
HowToSaveMoney Team
HowToSaveMoney Team's picture

Hey Geoff,

Thanks for pointing this out! You're right – we did overlook this very important question.

You're also right that having health insurance purely for "what-if" scenarios doesn't guarantee you save money. It's a peace-of-mind premium that feeds on fear and scary possibilities.

But if you have any kind of regular health-related expenses, health insurance can save you money every month.

For example, my prescription medications cost $180 a month. Blue Cross gives me a quote of $78.75 for a plan that covers 80% of prescriptions. This means I'd be paying $36 out of pocket per month – this, plus the premium, is $114.75 per month. With this plan, I immediately save $65 a month without factoring in the other benefits it offers, including Dental and Vision care reimbursements.

Of course this does not mean every person will save money, but it's worth considering. I've updated the article to reflect this, so thanks again for pointing it out :)

March 06, 2019 @ 2:00 pm
Brian So's picture

Unless you are applying for a guaranteed acceptance plan, you're going to have an exclusion in your policy for your current medication and medical condition. With a medically underwritten plan, you'll be asked about your medical history and any current medication. The benefit of a medically underwritten plan is that the coverage is better with higher limits and the premium is lower, but you have to go through underwriting which means your current medical conditions will be excluded.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't still get health insurance. You can still develop other medical conditions in the future that will be covered. However, it does mean that you should have bought it while you were healthy so that there aren't any exclusions.

April 29, 2019 @ 1:09 am
Donna Jean Innes
Donna Jean Innes's picture

There is no deductible factored into this comparison. It can make a significant difference in your final decision.

March 06, 2019 @ 11:56 am
HowToSaveMoney Team
HowToSaveMoney Team's picture

Hello Donna,

This would definitely be interesting to cover. After some research, I've noticed that health insurance companies aren't always straight forward with this information. 

Sunlife is one of the only ones that say anything about it, but it's just to say their plans include no deductibles. Definitely something to consider for a future update, but not sure how much information I can get.

Thank you for the suggestion!

March 11, 2019 @ 1:17 pm
Margaret's picture

I would be interested in an article on health/travel insurance availability for 55 plus travelers...best places...type of coverage etc

March 09, 2019 @ 6:21 pm
HowToSaveMoney Team
HowToSaveMoney Team's picture

That's a great idea, Margaret! We'll definitely consider it for our future posts.

Stay tuned ;)

March 11, 2019 @ 1:19 pm
Lisa Gridley
Lisa Gridley's picture

Is it possible to make your comparison chart printable. Thanks for putting all the research into this...now I need to check out their premiums.

March 14, 2019 @ 10:22 am
HowToSaveMoney Team
HowToSaveMoney Team's picture

Yes of course! I've added a link to the PDF version under the table in the article :)

Thanks for writing in, Lisa!

March 18, 2019 @ 4:23 pm

Post new comment