It seems almost ironic that in an age where there are so many health plans to choose from, each year more Americans end up uninsured. One major reason so many people end up without health plans is that many businesses are no longer offering health benefits.

In 2007, there were 37 million workers without health insurance, according to the National Coalition on Healthcare and figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 40 percent of uninsured people lived in households with an annual income of $50,000 or more.

Having no health insurance puts you in a medically and financially dangerous situation. You may delay getting necessary healthcare, leading to even worse illness. Or, you may end up like so many people who file for bankruptcy due to medical expenses. Here are some essential tips to use so you can find the best health plan:

1. Reassess your finances. Even Suze Orman would agree that when most people say they can’t afford health coverage, they’re not taking into account the “unnecessary” expenses they’re only too happy to pay for. Cable, satellite, cell phones, credit card debt, movie or concert tickets, and eating out can leave a pretty big hole in your wallet. Think about what you’re willing to sacrifice.

2. Do your research. Find out how well health insurers are doing before you settle on a plan. The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) evaluates over 100 health plans along five criteria: Access and Service, Qualified Providers, Staying Healthy, Getting Better, and Living with Illness. You can also review America’s Best Health Plan, a ranking system created by U.S. News and World Report in collaboration with NCQA.

3. Consider what coverage you and your family need most. A healthcare plan can be customized to suit your most pressing needs. For instance, if you wear glasses vision coverage may be more important than coverage for private or semi-private rooms.

4. Determine if a fee-for-service or managed care plan is right for you. These are the two main types of health insurance plans. Fee-for-service plans tend to be more expensive, but give you more choice of health care professionals, who receive a fee for each service.

Most Americans have managed care plans through their employers. They can go by other names — Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), Individual Practice Association (IPA) or Point of Service (POS) plans. They tend to cost less but differ in how payments are made, control over choosing your health provider, and other services.

There are other plans called Indemnity Plans, which allow you more choice of health professionals, but require more out-of-pocket costs and lots of paperwork.

5. Assess out-of-pocket costs. Some health insurers require you to pay a deductible before they start to pay your claims. Also, they may not cover the entire cost of some services, such as drug prescriptions or eyeglasses, but only a percentage of the fees. This means you’ll have to make co-payments. When sizing up plans, look at the percentages that each plan will pay and lifetime maximums.

6. Review company plans annually. When your company holds open enrollment, take time to review what’s on offer and to assess your healthcare needs. Maybe last year you didn’t need dental work, but now you do, for instance. When reviewing the choice of providers consider the same criteria you’d use if you were buying an individual plan — health professionals and hospital network, co-payments, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, lifetime maximum benefits, and additional coverage.

7. Read the fine print of your company plan. When you join your company’s health plan you receive a package that explains all the services and policies. Make sure you know who the approved health providers (doctors, hospitals and so on) are on your plan, or how much the insurer will cover if you use another health professional not in their network.

8. Review the drug formulary plan. Before you sign up for a plan check out the list of drugs they cover. If the plan does not cover a drug you need, look for another one.

With careful research of health plans, assessment of your family’s health status, and some savvy adjustments to your budget, you’ll be more likely to get the best health care plan at a price you can afford.