Medicare in Canada is a government-funded universal health insurance program established by legislation passed in 1957, 1966 and 1984. But the concept of a publicly funded and administered, comprehensive, accessible hospital and medical services insurance plan has a much longer and more complex history than simply the politics of creating a federal–provincial–territorial shared-cost agreement. As the Canadian health care system evolved, rising costs for hospital and medical services led citizens, progressive health professionals and some politicians to argue that health care was a social good not merely another purchasable commodity. This viewpoint was challenged by those who stated that individuals must take responsibility for their own and their family’s health care needs through private, prepaid insurance plans, and that the government should underwrite the costs for those who could not afford such benefits. In contrast to the United States, where Medicare is restricted to the elderly, the Canadian program provides universal coverage for all citizens and permanent residents, enabling them to access services throughout the country when they travel or move from province to province.
For many Canadians today, medicare has become a defining icon of their society. Understanding the origin and evolution of the concept, the views and values of its champions and critics, and the historical events that influenced its implementation will demonstrate that medicare is ever-changing — a delicate balance between public expectations, medical knowledge, technological change, economic and human resources, and political will. This site is designed to present a narrative history of the people, politics and programs that have contributed to making medicare a distinctive thread in the web of social progress in Canada.