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Posted by on Jan 23, 2013 in Bioethics | 0 comments

The Canada Health Act (23.01.2013)

The Canada Health Act (23.01.2013)

Whenever I say that Canada doesn’t have any overarching principle behind its various healthcare systems, someone invariably – often indignantly – says “Well, we have the Canada Health Act”. So I thought this would be a good place to talk (very briefly, I promise!) about the Act.

Parliament Buildings lit up as Canadian flag

Photo: Sandra Woods

Despite its grand title, the Canada Health Act does little to create any single system of healthcare in this country. It sets out five fairly basic principles which each province or territory must respect in order to receive specific healthcare funding from the federal government.

That said, any province or territory could decide to forego this funding and cease respecting any or all of these principles. It seems unlikely, but it is possible. I’ve been looking into this for years, and have never found any real recourse that the federal government would have in this situation; it seems that all they could do would be to withhold at least some federal healthcare transfers.

Photo of a patient wearing a hospital gown

Photo: Sandra Woods

What are the five basic principles of the Canada Health Act? Some academics use the acronym UPPAC to make them easier to recall:

  • Universality (public health insurance for all)
  • Portability (an individual eligible for public insurance remains so, no matter where they are in Canada)
  • Public administration (non-profit administration of healthcare, by a public agency)
  • Accessibility (prohibits financial or other barriers to access to medically necessary hospital and/or medical services)
  • Comprehensiveness (public health insurance must cover medically necessary services provided by physicians and/or in hospitals)

They’re good principles, but they’re not currently enforceable. And they aren’t enough to provide an overarching view of healthcare that would apply to each of the areas and regions within our immense country…


(1) The University of Ottawa: Society, the Individual, and Medicine component of the University of Ottawa Medical Curriculum. The 1984 Canada Health Act. Accessed 29 Dec 2013. Web:

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