We are lucky enough to live in Canada and have pretty decent medical coverage through our provincial health care plans but there's still a long list of things that aren't covered. Most employers offer some sort of group benefits but if you work on contract, are self-employed, just graduated, or are in between jobs you'll want to make sure you're prepared for any medical expenses that might come up.
Let's just talk quickly about Alberta Health Care coverage. It's FREE, you just need to make sure you register for it. You can check here for the forms you'll need to fill out and then it's just a quick trip to the registry. If you grew up in Alberta you'll be covered under your parents until you turn 21 (or 25 if you're a full-time student. Once you get to that age you'll need to register yourself to prevent any lapses in coverage. Consider yourselves lucky, when I aged out of my parents plan I actually had to pay for it....Alberta Health only got rid of the premiums in 2009.
If Alberta Health Care is all you've got you're going to want to look into other options to cover any gaps. There's definitely options out there if you don't have coverage through work, you'll just have to pay for it. One option is to save up an emergency fund for medical expenses, but I've got some reservations about this. For the small things it's fine but you can get stuck with a pretty massive bill if you have to take a ride in ambulance or get an emergency massage ;) And, at least in my case, if I actually had to pay out of pocket every time I went to the dentist, optometrist, etc. I would not be going nearly as often as I should. Routine check-ups can save you a ton of money in the long run but it's pretty tempting to skip that dental cleaning if it's going to cost you a couple hundred of bucks.
First off you'll want to think about what types of things you actually need to be covered for. Wear glasses? See a physio? Have a history of mysterious injuries? These things cost money but you can avoid the bill if you get the right coverage (ok, maybe not for ALL mysterious injuries...) You can find a pretty extensive list of services / procedures that are NOT covered by Alberta Health Services here. Once you've got an idea of what you need it's time to start looking at plan options.
If you have a pre-existing condition there are plans available that will cover it but you're going to pay more for it (obviously). If not, you can go with the full underwriting process and you'll get a lower rate (as long as you're healthy). One thing to note, if you've aged out of your parents group insurance plan there is often a grace period of about 60 days where you can get signed up for your own plan and skip the whole medical part.
Pricing for individual health benefits will vary dramatically depending on your age, medical history, type of coverage, etc. so you'll want to get a few quotes before making a final decision. There's lots of companies out there that offer individual benefits, here's few to make things easy:
Once you're armed with some quotes you just have to figure out which coverage / pricing option is best for you. And remember, if you're paying the insurance premiums make sure you actually take advantage of the coverage...don't let all those free massages go to waste!
Side note: if you're also interested in insurance for any fur babies in your life, I did a post on pet insurance here. Might as well take care of two insurance projects at once!