One of Canada’s main draws for immigrants is its policy of universal healthcare. Everyone, from citizens to some temporary residents, is entitled to healthcare that is nearly free. Despite it being a country-wide policy, each province administers its healthcare differently.
Today, we’ll talk about how newcomers to British Columbia can access health insurance, known as the Medical Services Plan (MSP). We’ll also explain the details of the British Columbia healthcare landscape, and show how to navigate the system once you’ve arrived in the province.
Like many other provinces, British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan requires an application plus a waiting period before you become eligible for coverage. That’s why we usually recommend that newcomers to Canada obtain private health insurance, to cover them during the period before their MSP coverage begins.
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British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan (MSP)
In Canada, the National Health Act guarantees universal healthcare for all citizens, but the burden of healthcare delivery is on each province individually. In British Columbia, this program is called the Medical Services Plan, and it’s administered by Health Insurance BC on behalf of the Ministry of Health.
Once you’ve secured your British Columbia health card, the Medical Services Plan covers the cost of medically necessary services performed by doctors, and in some cases, midwives. It also covers:
- Dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital
- Medically required eye examinations
- Some orthodontic services
- Diagnostic services
- Laboratory services
Even if you’ve been in British Columbia for decades, it can still be challenging to determine what the MSP covers, and what must be paid out of pocket. Generally, anything that is medically necessary or diagnostic is covered. Procedures that are not medically necessary (such as most cases of wisdom teeth removal, or cosmetic nose jobs) are not covered.
In the past, the Medical Services Plan required many people to pay premiums, which were $75 per month for individuals making over $42,000 per year. As of January 1st, 2020, those have been phased out, although individuals with outstanding premiums from before 2020 will continue to owe those funds.
British Columbia Health Insurance Supplementary Medical Services
Additionally, the MSP pays a certain portion of some supplementary medical services such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic services. However, to use these benefits, you must apply for them separately, and prove your eligibility through requirements such as your net annual income level, First Nations status, or immigration status.
Newcomer Eligibility for British Columbia Health Insurance
When you first arrive in the province, you’ll need to apply to receive your British Columbia health card through the Medical Services Plan as soon as possible. Unlike other provinces where you have to wait before you become eligible to apply, British Columbia encourages newcomers to apply right away. The required coverage waiting period is then completed while your application is processing.
All residents of British Columbia are eligible to apply for provincial healthcare. Individuals must be either a citizen of Canada or have been admitted to the country as a lawful permanent resident. They must also make their home in British Columbia, and be physically present in the province for 6 to 7 months out of each calendar year.
Additionally, the following individuals may also be eligible for British Columbia health care:
- Dependents of those that fit the above requirements
- Students who hold valid study permits
- Individuals on Working Holiday work permits
- Certain holders of study or work permits that were admitted to Canada under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Applying for Your British Columbia Health Card as a Newcomer
Applying for health insurance in British Columbia is easy, but requires eligible individuals to first obtain a Photo BC Services Card. This card, which can be combined with a driver’s license or used as a stand-alone ID card, must be obtained from an ICBC drivers licensing office.
Once you have your BC Services Card, the rest of the healthcare application process is easy. You can either apply through the MSP secure online portal, or send in your application through the mail. Completing the online form takes less than 15 minutes.
Once you have applied, your health coverage will not activate until you have completed the required coverage waiting period. For most people, the waiting period is two months, not including the month in which you became a resident. The date that you become a resident is dependent on a variety of factors, including your immigration status.
If you have extenuating circumstances, you may apply for a waiver of the coverage waiting period.
Navigating Your First Few Months in Canada
Depending on your immigration status, it could take several months to establish residency in British Columbia, plus a further two months of the standard coverage waiting period. Being without health insurance coverage for that length of time is never a good idea.
Accidents happen, and sudden illnesses can arrive with very little warning. If you don’t have private insurance coverage during this time, you will be forced to pay the cost of treatment out of pocket. For most newcomers to Canada, this type of large and unexpected expense can easily overwhelm their finances.
Instead of leaving yourself vulnerable, invest in private insurance before you arrive in Canada. This insurance should cover you and your family during your first months in the country. Moving2Canada has recently partnered with Cigna, where newcomers can apply and get approved in minutes. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll only pay for the insurance you need.