How is the healthcare in Canada really?

I know that a lot of people in the forums here and on the internet are generally very critical of US healthcare. In my experience however this couldn’t be further from the truth for people who are employed in the US and whose employers have good health insurance. It is with this lens that I want to better understand Canadian healthcare.

My main concerns about healthcare is availability and access. I’ve read multiple articles and watched youtube videos where it appears that there is a long wait time for treatment for regular ailments. Also it appears very hard to find a family doctor and even harder to find a pediatrician who is taking new patients.

So my question basically is how’s your encounter been with the Canadian healthcare system for general ailments (not life threatening ailments or accidents)

Currently in the USA, I can get an appointment with my doctor on the same day and am seen promptly. There are no wait times for any tests blood work or X-ray or other scans. My infant regularly visits his Pediatrician for bimonthly visits and immunizations. The sticker shock on the medical bills is real for sure but insurance covers most of it and we have a small co-pay. It was very easy for us to find a pediatrician, we interviewed 3 of them in the neighborhood before choosing one.

My experience so far:
For small things like cold, flue etc you can go to a walkin clinic and be seen within the hour. Or you could go to your family doctor with an appointment, usually same day or the next day, similar to my experience in the US. In Toronto downtown many people see a pediatrician for their kids, but once you start going farther away from the city, pediatricians are consulted only on a need basis when refered by your family doctor.
Our visit to the family doctor was similar to the US but I felt there was not much paperwork. I think most information is kept online, may be.

Prescription drugs are much cheaper than US. Most employers (afaik) provide insurance for drugs. Dentists are similar to the US and they work with insurance - I couldn’t tell the difference.
For emergencies you go to ER.
You don’t pay anything to see the doctor/tests/ER etc. You pay for drugs.


Pretty much very similar experience like @am1. Few more things to add. Been here for 3+ months, just got OHIP cards in had last week.

  • We have been to vaccination appointments with Pediatricians for our infant, and could get a normal appointment with 2-3 days wait times. This was with no OHIP coverage within our first month here.

  • During Second month, we had to go to ER for a non-critical condition, and it took a wait time of 3-4 hours to get seen. Not very different from US here too. Infact, I have had 6+ hours waiting time in US emergency.

  • In general, the prices that doctors charge here are very reasonable. It’s not exorbitant like US and has simple flat charges. Receptionist will clearly tell how much we need to pay at ER or at doctor, and would not say that “you just need to pay your copay, billing will get back to you with final charge after insurance adjustment” . For a regular same day visit, you don’t pay more than 100$, for ER it was 650 $ (this does not involve any testing). In US, I was in ER for 6 hours and got 6 different bills from various providers, and final bill for facility usage only reached 15000+ USD. Yes, insurance pays most of it but the process is unnecessarily complicated.


I was never able to find balanced videos on Canadian healthcare, especially from American sources. The content is heavily politicized and leans one way or the other. They either gave me the impression that Canadian healthcare either from utopia, or a highly dysfunctional death-trap.

That said, my personal experience has been limited, but interesting.

  • Wanted to visit the ER one day for pain. Called them up before running over - wait time was ~4 hours and consultation fee was $450 (without insurance). I choose the pain as it wasn’t worth the time and money.
  • Visited the pharmacy for prescription meds. Total comes to $15. $4 for the pills, $11 for the fixed dispensing fee. Pills came cheap, even cheaper when bought in bulk.

While US prescriptions aren’t accepted here, many enterprising doctors provide “translation services” in the border towns for a nominal fee. This is very good business in places like Windsor and Niagara Falls. Plenty of Americans do this to visit and purchase their meds for far cheaper prices.

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Thanks @ak45 for sharing your experience, you are spot on about the fact that that US coverage of Canadian healthcare. Intuitively I feel that like engineering problems out of Quality, Cost and Access you can realistically choose only two. It sounds like Canada prioritizes Quality and Cost which is a fair tradeoff whereas the US prioritizes Quality and Access.

The one thing that I have a question about is that both you and @usa2can mentioned a cost for the ER visit. Is this because at that time you weren’t covered by OHIP or the relevant provincial plan or are ER visits generally not covered by the provincial plan and need to paid for out of pocket?

ER visits should be covered - its just that I wasn’t insured that time.

ER is covered by OHIP. Its just that I was within 3 months of my residency and had to pay out of pocket.
The point I Was trying to make is that even then, ER charges are very reasonable and unlike US where it could easily blow out of proportion.

Got it, thanks for the clarification.