ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sarah Palin has been no friend lately of socialized health care.
She has criticized Canada's system, saying it should be dismantled in favor of free enterprise. And she has denounced President Barack Obama's health plan as being socialized medicine.
But during a weekend speech in Calgary, the former Republican vice presidential candidate acknowledged her family used medical care in Whitehorse, the capital of Canada's Yukon Territory, decades ago.
Palin was born in 1964 in Idaho and moved to the rural southeast Alaska town of Skagway as an infant.
"My first five years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse," Palin said during her Saturday night speech at Calgary's BMO Centre, part of the Fraser institute's influential speakers program.
"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."
Palin's father said Monday they had little choice, given their location in Skagway.
"There was no road out of there at that time," said retired teacher Chuck Heath, reached by phone in Wasilla. "The ferry schedule was very erratic. We had no doctor in Skagway. The plane schedule was very erratic. The winds dictated whether the planes could come in or not."
Palin's health care history, even when she was a child, is of interest because of her criticism of Obama and other Democrats working on U.S. health care.
Palin has been a frequent critic of big government and socialized health care, a seeming contradiction for someone whose family once took advantage of it in Whitehorse.
Palin in August called Obama's health plan "downright evil" in a Facebook posting and said he would create a "death panel" that would deny care to the neediest Americans. Democrats including Obama have dismissed that as a distortion.
Palin's father said his family probably boarded the train for the Whitehorse hospital only twice — once when a daughter had rheumatic fever, and once when his son, also named Chuck, severely burned his leg and an infection set in.
"We much preferred to use our facilities because my insurance didn't cover anything in Whitehorse. And even though they have socialized medicine, I still had to pay the bill, being an American citizen," Heath said.
Heath worked part-time for the White Pass & Yukon Railroad and had a pass allowing him and his family to ride for free.
The train in the 1960s often was the only option for getting to a doctor, Skagway Mayor Tom Cochran said.
There's now a road to Whitehorse about 112 miles away, but people still take advantage of Whitehorse dentists or doctors rather than flying to Alaska's capital, Juneau, 90 miles to the south.
"If you can't fly to Juneau — and a lot of times you can't, especially in the winter — they're going to get you to a medical treatment facility if it's an emergency, and that's normally where Whitehorse comes into play," Cochran said.
Cochran has lived in Skagway since 1968 and his family knew the Heaths. His own child needed help a decade ago.
"It was probably 10 years ago, anyway, two of my kids were in a four-wheeler accident, and one of them was hurt pretty badly, so we medevaced them to Whitehorse via ambulance," he said. "It's usually emergency situations when people go up there."
Palin aide Jason Recher did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment from the former governor.
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