Accessibility and the Canadian health care system: squaring perceptions and realities

Health Policy. 2004 Feb;67(2):137-48. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8510(03)00101-5.


The 1984 Canada Health Act (CHA) is the major piece of Federal legislation that governs health care accessibility in the provinces and territories. According to the CHA, all provinces and territories in Canada must uphold five principles in order to receive federal funding for health care (universality, comprehensiveness, portability, public administration, and accessibility). In Canada, there are competing views among policy makers and consumers about how the CHA's principle of accessibility should be defined, interpreted and used in delivering health care. During the 1990s, the health care perceptions of Canadians and their health care behaviours were measured through both public opinion polls and Statistics Canada's National Population Health Survey (NPHS). The goal of this paper is to examine perceptions of accessibility in public opinion polls and actual accessibility as measured through the NPHS. Public opinion polls demonstrate that while Canadians want to preserve the principles of the CHA, a majority of Canadians are losing confidence in their health care system. In contrast, the results from the NPHS reveal that only 6% of Canadians aged 25 years and older have experienced accessibility problems. Among those who report access problems, the barriers to accessibility are linked to specific socio-economic, socio-demographic and health characteristics of individuals. We discuss these findings in the context of the current debates surrounding accessibility within the CHA and the Canadian health care system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Canada
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration*
  • National Health Programs / standards
  • National Health Programs / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Opinion*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Waiting Lists