Site Home   Gender and Poverty       Introduction to Gender and Health   The Gender Lens Tool

Canada Health Act

Though the Canada Health Act is designed to  "to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers", there are still financial barriers to health and health care for many Canadians[1].

The 5 criteria (public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, accessibility) are meant to ensure the implementation of the Act in a way that will provide equal and equitable access;  this is not always the case.

Access to Health Care is the Right of All Canadians

Source: Health Canada website and Media Photo Gallery, Health Canada, Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006.
Generally, children who are living in families with low income are less likely to use healthcare services and to have a regular medical doctor. [5]

One of the strongest predictors of access to services and health professionals is a household’s income level and whether the family has healthcare insurance [6].

Families who are living in poverty are more likely to experience difficulties in accessing healthcare and mental health services.  In a recent study, it was found that 25% of parents using food banks identified accessing services as difficult especially services with user fees. [3]

The cost of healthcare often causes a tremendous hardship for those with low incomes.  While some funding programs and services are available, increasingly, low income individuals and families are required to pay full or partial costs for various tests, prescriptions, assistive devices, and procedures.  The cost of an ordinary illness like an inner ear infection can cause great hardship for a poor family.  The indirect costs of a chronic illness or disability can be insurmountable. [4]

Dental Health


Dental care is a matter of HEALTH, not just about the Hollywood Smile...

Poor oral hygiene and inadequate dental care in children and adolescents can lead to infection, pain, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, developmental and behavioural problems, low self-esteem, difficulty eating, and social isolation. [3][2] Dental care, at home and professionally, is an important part of good health across the life cycle and is unaffordable for some people.

In Ontario, preventative and routine dental care is not covered by OHIP, only services requiring hospitalization are covered[1]. Lower income Canadians are the least likely to have dental insurance or to have visited a dentist during the past year. [6]


Transportation is one of the main barriers to accessing health care.  Many low income families, weather in rural or urban areas, simply do not have a car or enough money to pay for travel to appointments.  For people in rural areas the distance to services can be very long, particularly for specialist services.  In many cases related appointments are scheduled on different days, making the problem even more difficult.  Where regular ongoing treatment is recommended this can pose insurmountable barriers. [4]


1. Health Canada. Insured surgical-dental services are services provided by a dentist in a hospital, where a hospital setting is required to properly perform the procedure. For more information and an overview of The Canada Health Act see: accessed April 11, 2006

2. The Effects of Oral Health on Overall Health, Health Canada accessed April 11, 2006

3. Singer, R. (April 2003). The impact of poverty on the health of children and youth. Campaign 2000.

4. Determinants of Health Working Group and the Child and Youth Health Network of eastern Ontario, (March 2000). The Challenges Our Children Face: Are we building healthy communities? Is there room for improvement? A report card on child poverty in Renfrew, pg. 1-17

5. Health Information Partnership- Eastern Ontario Region. (March 2002). The Health Status of Children and Youth in Eastern Ontario. Kingston: Author.

6. Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health (1999). Toward a Healthy Future: Second Report on the Health of Canadians. Ottawa: Health Canada.

All references for this section