More than 1,700 people have signed up for health insurance in Merced County

More than 1,700 people in Merced County have signed up for health insurance through Covered California during the second open enrollment period, according to data released last week by the state’s health marketplace.

The new totals, which account for enrollment as of Feb. 2, show that about 12,600 people have signed up for coverage in the five-county region that includes Merced, Mariposa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties.

During the 2013-14 enrollment period, 8,400 people in Merced County signed up for a health insurance plan through Covered California, according to the exchange.

Roy Kennedy, a Covered California spokesman, said that efforts to reach everybody who is eligible for coverage are in full force, especially with the approaching deadline. Sunday is the last day to purchase a health plan.

“We certainly intend to reach out to many more people in the area and entire region,” he said.

Kennedy explained that officials do not anticipate to sign up as many people as they did during the first enrollment period. “We enrolled quite a few the first time,” he said. Instead, officials are focusing on the “harder to reach” groups.

“A lot of the people that remain without insurance have been uninsured for quite a while,” Kennedy said. The goal now, he added, is to drive this group to check out their options on the marketplace.

Kennedy said officials expect an influx of people seeking assistance in the five days left before deadline, especially because those who do not sign up by Sunday will face a steeper tax penalty next year.

Eric Lee, an insurance agent with Lee Insurance Agency at 1199 Atwater Blvd., said the office has not been as busy as last year, although that’s no surprise. Lee explained that Merced is a unique environment where many people either obtain health coverage through their jobs or qualify for Medi-Cal.

Although Lee’s receiving calls for appointments this week, he’s not expecting a rush like last year. “But I do expect it to pick up somewhat,” he said. “There’s always those that wait last minute.”

Lee also shared that 72 percent of the people who’ve been assisted by his office have qualified for subsidized plans.

In the state, Covered California estimates that 90 percent of consumers receive some sort of subsidy.

Officials encourage people to seek professional assistance when signing up. To find local agents and counselors, people can click the “find local help” button on www.coveredca.com.