This paper uses hospital separation abstracts to assess trends in acute care hospital utilization in British Columbia over the first 18 years of publicly funded health insurance in the province. Between 1969 and fiscal year 1987-88, the overall separation rate decreased by 16%, accompanied by a 23% decrease in average length of stay. For the elderly, the separation rate increased by 14% and three quarter of this increase was for surgical procedures, mostly new high-technology procedures. For the nonelderly, separation rates decreased by 25%. Lengths of stay decreased in both age groups. Over the last two decades overall separation rates in British Columbia were higher than or equal to separation rates in the United States, and lengths of stay were consistently higher in British Columbia. Since access to hospitals by the elderly is similar in the two countries, lower hospital costs in Canada result from factors other than lower overall hospital utilization or decreased access for the elderly.