More than 40 million Americans don't have health insurance. Either they can't afford it or think they can't afford it, or, without an employer to offer it, they simply haven't managed to sign up for it on their own. That's a frightening situation to think about, though, because few things are as precious as our health.

If you need to buy health insurance for yourself or your family on your own, you have reason to be a bit apprehensive. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that "Average premiums... rose more than 11% in 2004 to around $10,000 annually for family coverage. And for people buying coverage on their own, rates can be even higher."

Still, there's a good chance that you can swing it -- and you should. Health insurance is important. Here are some tips, drawn from the Journal article and elsewhere:

  • Look into Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Roy Lewis explained them in some detail in this article. Basically, they're designed to help you pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses that your insurance doesn't pay for.

  • Learn the local rules. Regulations differ by state, so know what you're dealing with and what protections are offered you. (For example, having a pre-existing condition isn't necessarily a deal-breaker in every state.) At, you can look up information for each state.

  • Learn how to select a health insurance plan that's right for you. Our friends in the government can help, with guides and information at

  • Once you've narrowed down your choices, do a little due diligence on the contenders. Check out the "report card" for the health plans in question at You can also check with your state's insurance commissioner's office -- you'll find links to them at

Here are some additional articles on insurance:

Learn more in our Insurance Center -- it's not the most exciting topic, but it's critical. See what advice and experiences Fools are sharing on our Insurance discussion board, too -- we're offering a free trial of all our boards right now.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian hopes that more Americans can obtain health insurance.