I guess we've always assumed that health care was easier for celebrities than for the rest of us -- all those Hollywood doctors who make house calls and have a free-and-easy hand with the prescription pad. Was that just a fantasy from old movies? (And the Kennedy administration?)

I ask because at least two readers have brought it up. Ann Cochran from Cabin John noticed that Brad Pitt showed up at a hospital last month with flu-like symptoms, which turned out to be viral meningitis. The ever-vigilant press seemed to be right there in the urgent-care waiting room with him. Anyone with an HMO knows that urgent care does not want to see you if you have the flu, but if it might be viral meningitis and you're Brad Pitt, well, yes, the nurse practitioners would all like to see you. Treatment: Get rest; drink fluids; don't be such a movie star; don't run off to Africa to help your not-a-girlfriend adopt a baby, etc. In spite of the remote risk that he'd get sicker, Pitt was admitted overnight -- "a 'best-care' privilege," Cochran notes, but "with all the germs that float around hospitals, I don't think I'd want to go unless it was necessary."

"When I feel lousy, I just stay home and rest up. Maybe I'd visit my primary-care physician if I felt really awful," e-mails Lyn Stoesen of Washington. "Don't these celebrities have their own doctors? . . . Are they particularly hypochondriacal? Do they do it for the publicity?"

More baffling was Michael Jackson's repeat visits all spring to the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital -- for chronic back pain, his spokeswoman said. What this meant to some observers was that there were no longer any doctors willing to make house calls to Neverland. Imagine being the triage nurse on the morning a fugitive Jackson (the judge had issued a bench warrant because the singer had failed to show in court) tiptoes in with his entourage. Here's where celebrity urgent care seems almost absurd: handing Jackson, or Pitt, or the "exhausted" Lindsay Lohan, a clipboard and having them fill out a short medical history and produce a Blue Cross/Blue Shield card. Remember -- most famous actors, directors and screenwriters more than qualify for their unions' insurance plan; just because they're rich doesn't mean they shouldn't use it.

E-mail: celebrity@washpost.com.