Private Health Insurance

In Canada, some policy-makers and other powerful interests have aggressively supported the expansion of private health insurance (PHI) to finance health care services under the guise of improving consumer choice, reducing costs to tax-payers and decreasing wait times for health services. But the expansion of PHI has particular consequences for women, who make greater use of health care services than men and are the majority of paid and unpaid care providers.

Whether the cost of health services are publicly or privately insured matters to women because women as a group are less likely to have the economic resources to pay for PHI and are less likely than men to have PHI through their paid employment. Women marginalized on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, economic class, ability, geographic location, sexuality and health status are less likely to have PHI. While some women can afford PHI, insurance policies don’t always provide coverage for important areas of women’s health such as maternity care and mammograms, and women with pre-existing medical conditions, women who experience domestic abuse, and/or women with a family history of health concerns may not be covered.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the expansion of PHI will weaken the public health care system. When well-resourced, this system has greatly benefited women health care workers, while the introduction of cost-cutting measures in private facilities has undermined the quality of working conditions. The presence of a Universal public health care system in Canada has meant that women can seek basic health care services for themselves and their families without having to worry about the financial cost, and it provides formal health care services that reduce the demands for women’s unpaid care work in the home.

Women and Health Care Reform investigated the implications of PHI for women as patients, paid workers, and unpaid care providers, revealing that an expansion of PHI will greatly increase gender and other social inequities.

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