Along with hockey and politeness, universal health care is one of those things that defines us as Canadians. It’s a safety net that helps keep our finances healthy. But there’s a chance you don’t have as much protection against health costs as you might think.

Overall, Canadians are a healthy bunch. And a good sign of our overall health is our life expectancy. According to the Conference Board of Canada, our life expectancy is the sixth highest among 17 peer countries. (We’re behind Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Australia and Sweden, but ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom.) Still, we do get sick, and accidents (and pandemics) do happen. 

So, how much of the costs around those illnesses or injuries does your health plan pay for? And how much comes out of your pocket? 

What does your provincial health plan cover?

Provincial health plans cover only “medically necessary” services. These include those provided in a hospital. Various provinces have expanded their plans to cover expenses such as prescription drugs or eye exams. However, these benefits usually cover only certain groups of people. These include seniors, children or those in need. That leaves a range of health or health-related expenses uncovered for most of us.

Are your employee benefits enough?

Do you have employee benefits at work? You may think that will take care of the gaps your provincial plan leaves. But look closer. Your benefits may only partly cover the cost of things like antibiotics, orthodontia or laser eye surgery. In some basic-level plans, you may not be covered at all for these medical needs. Let’s look at braces for your child or yourself as an example. Those braces may cost, on average, $5,000 to $6,000. But your workplace plan may cover only half of that cost. You may also have to manage other limitations, such as deductibles, co-payments, and annual and lifetime maximums. These restrictions may leave you significantly out of pocket.

You may not have any employee benefits at all if: 

  • You’re between jobs, 
  • You’re a freelancer or 
  • You work in the gig economy. 

How will you pay for your medical expenses after you retire? 

Many Canadians don’t have a company pension. If you do have one, the odds are increasing that it won’t include medical benefits. Many provincial plans cover seniors for things like prescription drugs and eye exams. But again, there are limitations. For retirees, health-care costs may become a pressing financial concern.

So, what can you do to help ease the financial stress of health care as you age? For starters, it helps to look into all your health insurance options to see what’s right for you.

What types of health insurance are there?

The various kinds of health insurance can help fill the gaps provincial plans leave. Here are some to consider as part of your financial plan:  

Personal health insurance helps you pay for medical and dental expenses your provincial plan doesn’t cover. Depending on the plan you choose, you can get coverage for anything from prescription drugs to eyeglasses to root canals. It’s a way to help expand and strengthen that famous government safety net.

Critical illness insurance pays you a specified amount of money if you’re diagnosed with one of the serious illnesses that your policy covers. Then, you can use that money as you wish. The waiting period that your policy requires must pass before you can get this money.

Long-term care insurance helps cover health-care costs that your provincial plan doesn’t cover, over months or years. It usually works in one of two ways:

  1. You’ll be reimbursed (get money back) for the money you spend. 
  2. Or, you’ll get a regular income while you need care.

Disability insurance pays you some of your salary if you can't keep working because of injury or illness. You must be under age 65 to qualify for this insurance.

Get a professional opinion about your health insurance  

Just as it’s wise to go to a doctor for medical advice, it’s smart to work with a professional on your financial plan. A Sun Life Financial advisor can help. When you’re reviewing your finances with an advisor, you can look at your health protection, too. An advisor can give you more information about health insurance. And, they can help you figure out which type fits your financial situation best.