Health Care: Your Health is Well Protected in the Atlantic Provinces

Newcomers settling in the east coast provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (PEI) will find they are eligible for the same high standards of free health care programs – with access to good doctors, hospitals, and treatment programs – as the rest of Canada.

In Nova Scotia, the program is called MSI (Medical Services Insurance) www.gov.ns.ca/health/msi/. In PEI, it is called Health PEI www.healthpei.ca/i. In New Brunswick it is called NB Medicare www.gnb.ca/0051/ and in Newfoundland and Labrador it is MCP, the Medical Care Plan www.health.gov.nl.ca.

Who is eligible?
To be eligible for the provincial medicare programs, you must be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant, and be living in the province. You should apply for medicare as soon as you move to the province.

If you have come directly from outside the country, your medical coverage will start immediately after you have been registered. If you relocated from another province, you will not be on the program until the first week of the third month after you moved. In the meantime send any medical bills from doctor's offices, or hospitals to the medicare branch of the province you left and they will refund you the cost up to their own rates. Sometimes doctors' offices or hospitals will bill your former province directly.

Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia will provide international workers with medicare if they are working for an employer established in the province with a work permit that is valid for at least 12 months. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island advise foreign workers with work permits to contact their offices to determine their eligibility.

International post-secondary students in NL must present a study permit for a named post-secondary institution that is valid for 12 months to receive medicare. In Nova Scotia, international students with a study permit will not receive coverage until the 13th month of their residence in the province. New Brunswick and PEI do not offer medicare coverage for international students.  

Convention refugees, or people awaiting refugee hearings are not covered by the medical plan of any of these provinces but can apply for medical coverage from the Canadian Immigration Commission.

What is covered?
In all four provinces, medicare coverage provides free visits to doctors and specialists, medical clinics, hospital in-patient and out-patient care, medical tests, and non-elective surgery (surgery your doctor says you need). There are also free specialty clinics prescribed by a doctor for mental health, addictions, diabetic counseling, eating disorders, pre-natal health, respiratory therapy, rehabilitation services, occupational therapy and other medical conditions. Public Health Services including standard immunizations for children and adults are generally free, although there are fees for some vaccinations.

Elective surgery such as cosmetic surgery, laser eye surgery, and dental surgery are not covered by medicare.

Telephone Help-Lines
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have an 811 health telephone help-line, and NL has a tele-care line at 1-888-709-2929 with nurses providing health care advice and direction to the most appropriate medical service. Nurse practitioners are on staff in many medical clinics. There is no designated health help-line in PEI. But there is a general help-line for people in crisis 1-800-218-2885.

Ambulance fees
Ambulances are not covered by medicare but have established rates. All ambulance attendants are trained Emergency Medical Technicians, who are able to provide emergency medical care. NL residents with a MCP health card pay $115 per trip for road ambulance services, and $130 for air ambulance. In PEI there is a standard cost of $150 per day for all ground ambulance services which is waived for people over 65, for emergency calls. Patients being transported by air ambulance from PEI to hospitals in neighbouring provinces will not have to pay for the service. New Brunswick has a flat rate of $130.60 for ambulance fares for New Brunswick medicare recipients, and in Nova Scotia the ambulance fee is $134.52.

Dental care for children in NL and PEI
NL has universal dental care for all children under the age of 12, and limited dental care for children 13 -17 for low income families or those receiving income assistance from the province. PEI has basic dental services for all children age 3-17. There is no free child dental care in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Limited assistance for prescription drugs
Although the costs of prescription drugs are not covered by medicare for most people, there are pharmacare programs in all four province to assist low income families, chronically ill people, and seniors over the age of 65 with the cost of prescribed drugs. People who have diseases like HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illness with high-cost medications may also receive help to pay for these.

Why buy private medical insurance?
Residents in all four provinces are expected to pay for their own eye examinations, glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, artificial limbs and wheelchairs. Also not covered by medicare are massage therapy, most physiotherapy, acupuncture, orthotics, chiropodists, naturopathic doctors, and chiropractors. For this reason many people either have private medical insurance or buy group insurance through their workplace to cover non-medicare services and dental and prescription costs.

Visit the websites given at the start of this article for more detailed information of healthcare services in each province.