Ontario Health Care for New Immigrants

Many people say that there is nothing more important in life than good health and this is something that Canada has taken to heart by offering a comprehensive, universal health care system which is publicly funded and available to all residents living in the country. Despite this program being universal, each province oversees its own set of rules and regulations related to how the program unfolds. In Ontario, public health care is available through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Don’t be confused by the name.  The Ontario Health Insurance Plan is not insurance in the normal sense.  There are no premiums to be paid, and there are no choices to make in coverage.  Health care for all residents regardless of income or status is provided through OHIP.  A feature of the OHIP program is that private alternative care is not allowed.  This ensures that the public program is well funded and well run for every one.

New immigrants to Canada are encouraged to sign up for the health care program as fast as possible. There is a three month waiting period for most new immigrants and returning residents before OHIP coverage kicks in, so it is wise to purchase a basic insurance plan to cover emergency care during this waiting period.  As health costs are set by the province, these plans are not expensive.  Blue Cross is an example of a provider of these insurance plans. There are exemptions from the three month waiting period for protected persons such as refugees, people from other Canadian provinces who relocate to a long-term care facility in Ontario, adopted children under the age of 16 who are eligible for the OHIP program and all newborns in Ontario.

In order for new immigrants to benefit from the Ontario health care program, they must meet the following criteria: Ontario must be their primary place of residence; they must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident; they must be present in Ontario for at least 153 days during the first 183 days after establishing Ontario as their main residence and they must continue to be physically present in the province for 153 days during any 12-month period.

Once an immigrant meets all of the above criteria, they will receive their Health Card (also known as an OHIP card) which entitles them to all the services covered by the OHIP program. It should be noted that not all medical services are covered. This includes doctor visits, prescribed tests and x-rays, hospitalization, surgeries and post-operative care.  Maternity services including pre-natal care and childbirth are also fully covered.

Procedures which are not deemed to be medically necessary such as cosmetic surgery are not covered. However, all insured medically necessary services which are provided by physicians are covered by the health care program. Further services offered by other health care providers such as podiatrists, dentists and ophthalmologists are also covered, but within limits.

Being part of the OHIP program means that residents benefit from healthcare services all over Canada. In most provinces, healthcare services will simply be billed to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Ontario. However, in Quebec it is sometimes necessary to pay for those services yourself and then submit a receipt to the Ontario ministry in order to be reimbursed.

The Canadian public health care system is a source of pride for Canadians. It is one of our greatest accomplishments and is freely available to all immigrants establishing a new home here.

Header photo: some rights reserved by Phalinn Ooi