I feel guilty about it, if you want to know the truth. Maybe I'd better explain.
One of the provisions slipped into the pork-packed "stimulus" package authorizes billions for digitizing medical records. It also establishes a National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
According to Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, that's not a good idea. She explains, at Bloomberg.com, that the national coordinator will monitor everyone's medical treatment to make sure doctors are "doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective."
In other words, the government will be able to begin "guiding" doctors' decisions -- it will be able to dissuade costly treatments, say, for older folks who the government figures may croak soon anyhow. That's why I feel guilty.
I write for a living, you see. Writing is hard. Because I am unable to concentrate at home, I go to a coffee shop or diner every morning. One of my favorite spots is Panera Bread. But most mornings, I encounter a problem: retirees.
There are dozens of them at Panera Bread. They are in their 60s, 70s and 80s -- one woman is 93. They are healthy and cheerful. They talk loudly and laugh boisterously. Who can blame them for being so upbeat? They are a reflection of an incredibly successful civilization that, our current recession aside, produced unimaginable wealth -- and unimaginable advances in health care.
Some of the retirees have new hips and knees, no doubt. Their tickers, successfully bypassed and rerouted, are beating as good as new. They've likely outlived a number of maladies that might have been their end, if not for the amazing drugs and medical innovations that America has produced. But I am unable to write when the retirees are socializing at Panera Bread.
One fellow has a powerful, booming voice and loves to use it. One lady has a cackle that sounds like fingernails scraping a chalkboard. Another fellow breaks out whistling for no reason at all -- a loud, screeching whistle that makes concentrating impossible.
It is a touch ironic that as they enjoy their coffee and camaraderie on one side of the room, I sit on the other side working in order to fund some of their good fortune -- to fund Medicare and Social Security. It isn't their fault that Social Security is a giant Ponzi scheme -- that they are drawing out way more than they paid in, and that I'm surely paying in way more than I'll ever draw out.
It also struck me as ironic that the more they talk and cackle and whistle, the less work I am able to get done. The less I produce, the less I am able to bill. The less I am able to bill, the less taxes I am able to pay to fund the Medicare and Social Security that contributes to their cheerfulness. But nothing is more ironic than this: Some of my retiree friends likely voted for the politicians -- the Democrats -- who have promised to give them the most stuff.
Surely, the retirees had no idea that Democrats would slip a provision by them through which the government would begin monitoring -- and eventually denying -- costly medical treatments to older folks just like them.
After all, says liberal Democrat Tom Daschle, who authored the idea, America's elderly need to become more like Europeans -- more willing to accept their fates and "forgo experimental treatments." In other words, it's just a matter of time before some nameless, faceless bureaucrat -- not an elderly patient's doctor -- decides which treatment is "cost-effective" based on the patient's age.
It pains me to bring up the most ironic point of all, but there is no escaping it: This could be the only time in my life that the decisions made by a heartless government bureaucrat might unwittingly benefit me. It has occurred to me that as there are fewer retirees talking, cackling and whistling at Panera Bread -- as the government denies them treatment -- I'll finally be able to get some work done.
Such are the callous, thoughtless, perverse musings that only the government can encourage. At least I feel guilty about it.
Tom is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.