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Palin Family Could Apply for Free Federal Health Care

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — When Gov. Sarah Palin said during the vice presidential debate Thursday that her family has gone through periods where they’ve been uninsured and she understands what it’s like for Americans “to sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care,” she forgot to mention something.

Unlike the vast majority of Americans, her husband and children had a good chance of qualifying for free, federally funded, comprehensive health care under a program of the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service.

The governor’s husband, Todd Palin, traces his Yup’ik ancestry to his maternal grandmother. Sarah Palin routinely mentions her husband’s background at public appearances, and did this regularly when she ran for governor in 2006. At the time, the issue painted her in a positive light with the Native Alaskan voting bloc.

Todd is a lifelong fisherman. Bristol Bay fishing rights must be bought or inherited in Alaska. In Palin’s case, he says he bought his fishing spot from his grandfather in the 1970s. He also inherited shares in two native Alaska corporations. These shares can only be passed from one blood relative to another. Private citizens cannot purchase them.

Todd Palin’s ancestry grants another plus — it makes him and his children eligible to apply for free government health care.

To qualify for the state-based, federally funded program, [Alaska Area Native Health Service](Alaska Area Native Health Service), residents must provide proof of ancestry. Cecile Wesley, the director of eligibility at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, told me in an interview that one way of establishing ancestry requirements is to present a shareholder card for one of four Alaska native corporations that list “blood quantum” — the carrier’s percentage of “Indian blood.”

“[Alaska Native Medical Center] does not have a blood quantum requirement,” said Wesley, when I asked what percentage of native blood a resident must have in order to receive the healthcare.

One corporation that issues cards with the blood quantum requirement is the Bristol Bay Native Corp. According to public disclosure forms Sarah Palin filed with the state of Alaska, her husband and their children are BBNC shareholders. Palin’s disclosure form is available here.

Todd Palin and the Palin children are also a shareholders in another Native corporation, Choggiung Ltd.

Wesley said that the Bristol Bay cards have been updated in recent years to include the blood quantum. Older cards would not have been accepted. In that case, the Palins would have had to establish proof of ancestry through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, or by presenting a membership card in a federally approved tribe.

Like Alaska, the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not set a blood quantum requirement for establishing native ancestry.

Multiple requests for comment from the McCain-Palin campaign were not immediately answered.

It’s unclear whether the Palin’s ever used the native health-service program. But, it’s likely that the family had a better option than “paying out-of-pocket” for health-care coverage.

*Note: This post was originally published at 5:00am Eastern. The time stamp was changed so it would remain on the TWI homepage.

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