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?
- Types of health insurance
- Health insurance comparison chart
- List of health insurance companies in Canada
- Frequently asked questions
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,
- 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.
Plus a travel bonus worth another $150.
Quantities are limited.
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:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
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 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.
|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|
|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|
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
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!