William K. Wolfrum's picture

    Sarah Palin crosses border to get health care in Canada? Much ado about Skagway

    Liberal blogs are abuzz today about Sarah Palin’s admission that her family crossed the border from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse in Canada to receive health care for her brother:

    “My first five years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse. Believe it or not – this was in the ‘60s – we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn’t that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada.”

    Now, while it’s easy to spot the political stupidity of her bringing up this story, there does need to be a non-knee-jerk response to it. Mainly, the fact that her family was in Skagway. In the 1960s.

    I actually spent a summer working as a reporter for the Skagway News. In the summer, with cruise ships pouring in, the population of the Southeastern town explodes to about 2,000. But the fact is, year-round, the population of Skagway is in the neighborhood of 800. It’s not exactly a great place to spend your winters. Or to get health care for serious issues.

    Skagway is a town with limited access, in or out. It’s also not a place where it’s likely they can handle severe burns. Maybe in 2010 they can, but it’s almost a certainty that they couldn’t in the 1960s. I’d be willing to wager that any major medical problem would end up being taken care of Whitehorse, which is by far the closest big city around.

    Add to that the fact that Canada’s Universal Health Care program wasn’t truly in full effect until 1966*; it was Palin's parents that made the journey; and they most likely paid for it.

    So while mocking Palin is rightfully a national sport at this point, and the timing and content of her remark was politically stupid, it’s really a non-starter. And poor political discourse.

    Update: While the “Getting free health care in Canada” story is still a non-starter, the Anchorage Daily News, among others, has noted that Palin originally told The Skagway News that her brother had been taken via ferry to Juneau.

    * Some confusion on this. Here’s the link to a time line of Canada’s health care system.


    Crossposted at William K. Wolfrum Chronicles



    Not knowing the region at all, what are the odds that the reason they went to Canada was for free healthcare versus it being the closest place they could get healthcare? I.e., are there places about as close or closer in Alaska where her brother could've been treated?

    As for Canada's UHC not going into effect until 1966, I'll point out that Sarah Palin wasn't born until 1964, so if she remembers this, it was most likely after 1966.

    Finally, how dare you try to dampen anyone's efforts to mock Sarah Palin‽ (OK, in her defense, even if the reason was for free healthcare, it's safe to say that the people making this choice were her parents and not her.)

    I think it's very likely they went there for better medical care. Skagway is a very small town, and at the time there was a train that went directly to Whitehorse. There isn't a bigger town anywhere that's easily accessible.

    Palin moved from Idaho to Wasilla as an infant, and went to High School there. No record of her living anywhere else. It's like 700 miles by car to Whitehorse, and 45 to Anchorage. So begs the question, why Whitehorse?

    It's like 700 miles by car to Whitehorse

    From Skagway, it's maybe 100 miles to Whitehorse. To be fair, I had never heard about the Skagway connection from the Palins before today.

    Skagway is a port town at the northern end of the Inside Passage, sitting at the foot of just about the only pass over the Coastal Range to the Yukon.   There is no land connection to any other US town--water and air only.

    Health care isn't free for non-residents. If Yukon (a territory) operates like the provinces do, you have to provide a government-issued medicare card so the doctor or hospital can bill the system. Otherwise, you get the bill. But even paying out of pocket, the price for a given treatment is way less than it would be in the States.

    Which is why Canadians visiting the U.S. need travel health insurance. You can put in a claim to your home province for emergency treatment, but you'll get reimbursed only for what the comparable care would have cost in Canada -- often one-tenth or less of what you've been billed.

    Bill is right - of course he is: he was a Skagway News intern back in the day!

    Sarah Palin moved from Idaho to Skagway, Alaska when she was just a few months old. This was  well-chronicled in many, many bio stories after the VP nomination. Her dad taught school here for about 5 years before moving the family to Wasilla. See our story on her Skagway years:


    and this one from 2007 when she returned from her first visit as governor


    As for going to Canada, no big deal. It used to be a fairly common occurrence because it was way cheaper. But about 10 years ago, the Canadian doctors started demanding payment up front for most elective medical services. So many avoid Canada now, except for dental. We have a good clinic here, but they are limited. Most patients that need urgent care are readied by our capable EMTS and PAs and medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau - a 40 minute flight. If the weather does not allow a flight, then the patient will be sent to Whitehorse, Yukon on the highway, a 2-hour ambulance ride. The Palins were here 15 years before the highway was built, so they traveled via WP&YR train for 8 hours to get her brother to the hospital.

    Truth from the lead Skagway Newsie himself! Thanks, JB! Folks around these parts have a hard time believing I did the things I said I did, so your verification is valuable.

    You never even saw it coming, did you, American swine? The entire purpose behind our adopting this ludicrously-expensive "Universal Healthcare' scheme being to lure the young Palin across the border from Skagway, for her "Operation."

    Excellent. And the "Sarah Palin" unit returned to you has performed exactly as specified.

    Yesssssss. And you're all going to DIE a little when you see her NEXT move!




    I'm just waiting for Genghis to rip you a new one for yet again messing up the formatting…

    Quinn's had my back before so I figured I'd help him out this once.

    Yeah, but... but... but... Does it still READ like, KraZEE rad EVILE like before? 'Cause that was the look I was goin' for.


    Actually, and I had forgotten this, if you read the May 2007 article, you will see that Palin said they went to Juneau on the ferry for the burn incident. Granted she was 4 or 5 at the time and may not have an exact memory of it. Interesting, though, that the story changed to Canada. I'm sure they went to Canada for other med care.

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