The flag of Canada beside the word "HEALTH"

How Canada ranks when it comes to universal health care

Access to affordable health care is a hot-button topic and has been debated for decades. With health care costs increasing in Canada and with a shift in the way medications are used to treat and prevent chronic illnesses, universal health care continues to be at the forefront of discussions about health care reform.

With many Canadians increasingly having trouble paying for medical costs that are not covered by provincial health care plans, many are calling into question the country’s health care system.

Where does Canada rank in terms of universal health care?

People sometimes assume that Canada has one of the best health care systems in the world. However, results from a number of studies show that there is a need for improvement.

Because prescription drugs are increasingly being used not only to treat health conditions, but also to prevent many chronic illnesses, there is a need to further investigate the merits of a universal drug insurance plan in Canada and how health care can be improved.

World Health Organization rankings

According to the World Health Organization rankings of the world’s health systems, Canada ranks 30th out of 190 countries. France is ranked number 1, while the United States comes in at 37.

Commonwealth Fund report

This report compared the health care systems of 14 high-income countries around the world. Healthy Debate provides this summary of the Canadian data:

Canada ranked at the bottom in access to care and use of electronic health records, and in the middle regarding costs and health outcomes. Thirty-eight percent of Canadians felt the system works well, 51% thought it needs fundamental change, and 10% believed it needs to be completely rebuilt.

Healthy Debate grouped its overview of the Canadian results into five categories. Here is how Canada fared compared to the other countries:

  1. Access to care
    • Second-worst for after-hours access to health care
    • Longest wait times for specialist appointments and elective surgeries
  2. Electronic medical records
    • Canadian doctors displayed the lowest use of medical records
  3. Hospitals
    • Few Canadians are being admitted to the hospital unnecessarily; however, a lack of beds for acutely ill patients is a significant cause of emergency department overcrowding in hospitals
  4. Costs of health care
    • Canada ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of percentage of the gross domestic product spent on health care
  5. Public satisfaction with health care
    • Canada ranked similarly to the other countries in terms of how well people felt that the health care system works

Conference Board of Canada’s How Canada Performs program

When Canada was benchmarked against 16 other countries in How Canada Performs, it received a “B” grade and ranked 10th overall out of the 17 countries.

Although Canada offers universal access to health care services and has an internationally recognized health care system, it falls short in a number of areas. The Conference Board of Canada points at the “limited availability of comprehensive health information systems, wait times for some health care diagnostics and treatments, and management systems that don’t focus enough on the quality of health outcomes.”

Here is a breakdown of Canada’s performance on 11 health conditions that were used as indicators:

  • Grade “A” for: Self-reported health status, premature mortality, mortality due to circulatory diseases
  • Grade “B” for: Life expectancy, mortality due to respiratory diseases, mortality due to mental disorders, mortality due to medical misadventures
  • Grade “C” for: Mortality due to cancer, mortality due to diabetes, mortality due to musculoskeletal system diseases, infant mortality

What does this mean for the average Canadian?

As Canada’s population ages, there will be a greater need for high-quality care. Chronic diseases, obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes are health conditions that will place greater strain on our health care systems if changes are not made.

The good news is that Canadians have options to ensure they can receive the health care they need without placing a financial burden on their families – in the form of health insurance wellness programs and private health insurance.

Without access to a universal drug insurance plan in Canada, and considering that one in 10 Canadians cannot afford prescription medications as prescribed by their doctors, there is a need for Canadians to find supplemental health insurance for their provincial health insurance plans to offset medical care costs. Private health insurance can help pay for prescription drugs, medical equipment, dental and vision care, and more.