Private insurance represents 13% of health care spending in Canada-twice the OECD average

New OECD data reveal differences in health financing in 30 countries

June 26, 2006-Canadians pay a larger portion of their health care bill through private funding than the OECD average, according to data released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Private funds-including mostly private insurance and out-of-pocket payments-represented 30% of Canada�s overall health care spending in 2004, compared to the OECD average (27%).

Private insurance represented, on average, 6% of health care spending in OECD countries in 2004, compared to 13% in Canada. The United States had the highest share (37%) of private insurance financing, while Japan, Iceland and the Czech Republic reported the lowest shares (less than 1%). Several countries with a negligible share of their population covered by private insurance did not report.

Canadians spent less out of pocket-15% of total health spending-than the OECD average of nearly 20%. Mexicans paid the highest proportion out of their pockets (51%), while those in Luxembourg paid the lowest (7%). Private insurance and out-of-pocket payments in Canada tend to be higher for services not covered under the Canada Health Act, such as drugs, dental and vision services, as well as supplemental hospital care.

For drug expenditures, Canada�s proportion of private funding is larger than that of most OECD countries. In 2004, private payments represented 62% of Canada�s total drug costs, while the average for the OECD was 39%. Mexico and the U.S. had the highest proportion of private spending on drugs, 88% and 76% respectively, while Ireland had the lowest (11%).

Other highlights from the OECD data include:

  • Canada’s doctor-to-population ratio is unchanged since 1990: Canada has a lower rate of physicians per 1,000 population (2.1) than all but four OECD countries. The OECD average rate for physicians per 1,000 population increased from 2.3 in 1990 to 3.1 in 2004, while Canada�s rate remained unchanged during the same period.

  • Canada’s ratio of nurses down since 1990: The number of nurses per 1,000 population in Canada decreased from 11.1 in 1990 to 9.9 in 2004, but still remained higher than the OECD average (8.9). The Canadian rate is similar to that in Germany and Japan.

  • Canada has higher than average incidence rates of breast and lung cancer: Canada�s lung cancer rate (43.7 per 100,000 population) was among the highest in the OECD. Only Belgium, Poland, the U.S. and Hungary had higher rates. The rate of breast cancer in Canada (84.3 per 100,000 women) was also higher than the OECD average (69.6) and similar to rates in Australia and Finland. Cancer rates are for 2002.

  • Canada�s proportion of low birth weight babies is lower than most: Canada�s proportion of low birth weight babies (5.8%) in 2003 is lower than the OECD average (6.5%) and similar to the rate in Denmark and Poland.

The annual OECD Health Data release compares health data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada with information for other member countries of the OECD. Both organizations are responsible for providing Canadian data to the OECD, in accordance with reporting standards and guidelines provided by the OECD. The OECD report is a comprehensive source of inter-country statistics in key areas of health and health care systems.

To review this year�s OECD data, visit the OECD website, at

For more detailed information on Canada�s health spending trends, and supply of physicians and nurses, please visit our website, at For more detailed information on cancer rates and low birth weight babies, please visit

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada�s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI�s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable information. CIHI�s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness among Canadians of the factors that contribute to good health.