Sarah Palin went to Canada for health care? Much ado about Skagway
March 8, 2010 by William K. Wolfrum
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.