Medical necessity in Canadian health policy: four meanings and ... a funeral?

Milbank Q. 1997;75(3):365-94. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.00060.


Four meanings of medical necessity have emerged, evolved, and dominated past and current health policy debates about the appropriate level of service coverage under Canada's health insurance program. To explore the shift in definition, provincial government and national health care association position papers responding to federal legislative and policy reviews of Canada's health insurance program from 1957 to 1984 were examined, as were more current reports on medical necessity. Four meanings of medical necessity predominated: "what doctors and hospitals do"; "the maximum we can afford"; "what is scientifically justified"; and "what is consistently funded across all provinces." These meanings changed with time as different stakeholder associations and governments redefined the concept of medical necessity to achieve different policy objectives for health service coverage under Canada's health insurance program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Canada
  • Health Care Rationing
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage / trends*
  • National Health Programs / trends*
  • Politics