Life can change in an instant.

That’s the message Covered California officials tried to convey during a pit stop in Bakersfield on Thursday as part of a statewide bus tour to encourage people to sign up for health coverage during open enrollment, which lasts through Jan. 15.

The event, held at Mill Creek Park, included a dance performance by the Penn Point Dance Academy in Bakersfield, depicting a group participating in a jog when a member has an accident and tears a tendon in her foot. The goal of the performance was to show that accidents can happen at any time.

“We’ve reduced the rate of the uninsured to historically low levels, but we want to leave nobody behind,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee. “One reason some people don’t sign up for insurance is ‘Oh, I’m healthy. I don’t need insurance.’ They’re wrong. Life can change in an instant. None of us can predict what’s going to happen.”

Lee said nearly half of uninsured Californians — 1.1 million — are eligible for coverage under Covered California. In Bakersfield, an estimated 27,000 are eligible. A total of 67,173 people in the Bakersfield area are estimated to have been uninsured last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Lee noted that only American citizens are eligible.

Many of those who are eligible but are still uninsured believe they can’t afford insurance, Lee said. However, he said 9 in 10 people who sign up for Covered California can get financial help, something he wants to make more people across the state aware of.

“As good as the work we’ve done in California is, we have more work to do, and we look forward to building on those accomplishments,” he said.

One of the organizations that is helping with the effort locally is Kern County-based health provider Clinica Sierra Vista.

“Because of Covered California, we have made a difference in getting people covered with health insurance and giving them access to health care through Clinica’s programs,” said CEO Brian Harris. “Having health insurance helps make the community healthier.”

Around 2,500 people enroll in Covered California every year through the organization.

California isn’t the only state looking to expand health coverage. Health care was a major focus in this month’s election, including the future of the Affordable Care Act. 

“We saw across the nation states like Idaho, Nebraska and Utah vote to expand their Medicaid programs,” Lee said. “People of every political stripe were saying no one should be denied coverage because they have a preexisting condition. With these elections, the Affordable Care Act is now woven into the fabric of the nation and it can never go back, and that’s great news for all Americans.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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