Skip the self-diagnosis

It's become a joke in my household.

Strange tingling in the arm? Per WebMD, it's most certainly cancer.

Sharp pain in the lower back? Take your pick, WebMD suggests, between ovarian, kidney or spinal cancer.

Splitting headache? WebMD insists—insists!—it's brain cancer.

You'd think I'd know better. Stop clicking the mouse and just call the doctor already. And eventually I do, because I'm one of the lucky ones with employer-subsidized coverage.

I have many friends, however—some students and artists, some unemployed—who too often find themselves weighing a trip to the doctor against such self-diagnosis.

I wasn't always so fortunate. There was a time when I cobbled together a living via part-time jobs and didn't qualify for coverage. Rather, I paid nearly $500 a month for the privilege of being added to my husband's policy.

I was still lucky, actually. My husband's plan was comprehensive with low copays, and his employer added me without combing through my health-care records for disqualifying pre-existing conditions.

Come October 1, however, such a plan would likely cost me much less because that's when, under the Affordable Care Act, Covered California will start selling subsidized insurance policies to millions previously ineligible for employer coverage.

Between copays and package options, tax benefits and penalties, cheaper coverage isn't necessarily any less confusing, however.

The choices we make about our health care have as much to do with knowledge and resources as they do with money. This week's Feature Story, “What the health?!?” by Daniel Weintraub (page 17), explains ACA's impact on millions of Californians—and also decodes some of its more obtuse details.

Because when it comes to serious health-care choices, WebMD should not be a part of the process.