Money For Nothing

A courageous plan to rid our country of a dire threat to our health and well-being: surplus celebrities.

Published February 20, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

there is a certain genius to it, I have to admit. Earlier this week, the Health Care Finance Administration (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) announced that it would start paying New York hospitals not to train doctors. "In a plan that health experts greeted as brilliant and bizarre," the New York Times reported, "41 of New York state's teaching hospitals will be paid $400 million to not cultivate so many new doctors, their main cash crop." The aim, proponents of the plan say, is to cut down on a "surplus" of doctors now apparently overrunning the hallways and operating rooms of hospitals desperately trying to become as lean 'n' mean as managed care demands.

The plan pretty much flabbergasted everyone who heard about it -- if my reaction and the reaction of one Dr. Alan Hillman, a University of Pennsylvania health policy professor, are anything to go by. "I've never heard anything like this before," he told the Times. "But I really can't find any fault with it."

He might not be able to, but I'd like to try.

The concept, you see, is pure gold. Trouble is, the money is being spent in the wrong places. For one thing, they could have done a little more shopping around before settling on New York hospitals as their non-teaching institutions. I, for one, would be happy to agree to not teach any doctors over the next year -- and my rates are, well, let's just say they're more reasonable.

More importantly, though, the program seems to be built on a premise that seems, at least to me, pretty rickety. Look: There's no "doctor surplus" I can detect. Granted, I don't live in New York, where for all I know homeless doctors roam the street trying to trade medical supplies for food. But the pesky things always seem to be in short supply every time I try to make an appointment, and whenever I'm finally able to convince the doctor to see me, his waiting room seems to be filled with, well, a surplus of patients -- coughing and sniffling and generally making my stay most unpleasant.

Perhaps these supposed "patients" are in fact doctors in disguise, trying to worm their way into the hospitals by the back door. Perhaps when I'm not looking, they sneak into a back room and change into fresh scrubs, examining and operating on one another and (worst of all) teaching each other about medical procedures in the process. I don't know; it could happen. In any case, the next time I'm at the doctor's office I plan to offer a crisp $20 bill to any surplus "patient" who agrees to leave the premises at once. I trust the Department of Health and Human Services will reimburse me.

I'd like to propose that HHS spend its money on something more valuable, something that will help ease the pain and suffering of all Americans, not simply New Yorkers with overeager medical students breathing down their necks. No, no, I'm not talking about a plan to pay law schools not to turn out lawyers -- though that's not a bad idea.

I'm talking about a plan to combat our out-of-control celebrity problem.

Consider: By spending no more money than will be spent in one measly state for the Medicare Graduate Medical Education Demonstration Project, the government could help clear the media arteries of our great nation of encrustations of useless and annoying human cholesterol like Dennis Rodman and Jenny McCarthy.

Consider the following, which could form the basis of a Medicare Celebrity Eradication Demonstration Project costing less -- less! -- than $400 million.

  • $10 million to Brooke Shields to refrain from comedy for a period of five years.

  • $10 million to Pamela Anderson Lee to refrain from plastic surgery for five years.

  • $20 million to Madonna to stop talking with that new accent of hers. What is she, British?

  • $10 million to Deepak Chopra to admit that he's just making it up as he goes along.

  • $5 million to Charles Grodin to sit quietly on his show one night, allowing his rage to build to the point where his head literally bursts from the pressure. (The effect could be enhanced with small explosive devices.)

  • $100 million to all O.J. experts, past present and future, to refrain from talking about the case ever again, even in private. Especially that one O.J. supporter with the big head who always looks like he's about to pop someone in the mouth.

  • $20 million to JFK Jr. to refrain from publishing George. Or at least from distributing it.

  • $50 million to Michael Ovitz to remain unemployed.

  • $30 million to Demi Moore to keep her clothes on.

  • $10 million to Kathie Lee Gifford to refrain from talking about Cody, half of which must be given directly to Cody for the psychic damage she's already caused him.

  • $20 million to Jenny McCarthy to stop doing whatever it is, exactly, that she does.

  • $25 million to Martha Stewart to stop.

  • $15 million to Dennis Rodman if he promises to dye his hair black and wear men's clothes.

  • $10 million to Tony "Personal Power" Robbins to put his fingers in a light socket. There's some freakin' power for ya, infomercial boy!

  • $5 million to Richard Simmons to put on long pants and shirts with sleeves.

  • $15,000 in cash and prizes to Bob Saget to shut up so we can watch the damned funny videos without having to listen to him.

  • $20 million to Michael Jordan to not endorse any more products.

  • $3 million to Gwen Stefani of No Doubt to remove that annoying little dot from her forehead.

  • $15 million to the members of Oasis and Blur if they promise to fight one another, to the death, with baseball bats, on stage, with Michael Jackson and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.

  • $10 million to the cast of "The McLaughlin Group" to simply admit whenever they don't know what the hell they're talking about, and to conduct their weekly shows in tones no higher than a whisper. Underwater.

  • $150 to Michael Kinsley if he stops making that joke in his column every week about Bill Gates having people killed. (I will pay this out of my own pocket if necessary.)

That's not quite $400 million. But I've got some, er, administrative costs I need to take care of.

By David Futrelle

David Futrelle, a regular Sneak Peeks contributor, has written for The Nation, Newsday, and Lingua Franca.

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