California's health insurance exchange web site is under such pressure from the crush of last-minute users that to accommodate more of them, exchange officials on Monday removed one feature from the site, and are asking people who have completed their applications up to a certain point to finish later.

Those applicants are being alerted online that they can complete their applications by the April 15 extended deadline, said Covered California executive director Peter Lee during a press conference Monday.

Even as Lee announced that enrollments in health insurance plans now have surged past 1.2 million, with another 1.5 million enrolled in Medi-Cal, he said the system "is being swamped with huge interest'' which is making the site more sluggish and preventing access to as many potential new enrollees as possible.

To allow more of them to sign up by the midnight deadline, Lee said the "Preview Plans'' feature is being taken down to free up enough energy to keep the web site working at a reasonable pace.

The "Shop and Compare'' feature, which Lee said offers the same information for applicants who are trying to decide which health plan best suits their needs, will remain on the web site, he said.

Lee also said that the Covered California web site is being monitored so that during high volume periods, the web site will stop applications at the "save'' juncture of the process, and alert them that their applications can be completed later. They can finish their applications online, through a call center, or with the help of a certified insurance agent or certified enrollment counselor.

As long as an individual can show that he or she started an application by 11:59 p.m. Monday, Covered California will let that person finalize it by April 15. Anyone who is not enrolled in a health plan by that date faces a $95 penalty, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater.

Since insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, opened for business on Oct. 1, Lee said 40 percent of California's 1.2 million enrollees have signed up for an exchange plan by themselves.

Lee also said the average wait time early Monday to enroll in a plan through the state's three call centers was more than 40 minutes, but less than an hour.

Some last-minute enrollment events also are being held around the state including one in Oakland's Chinatown, where dozens of would-be enrollees waited Monday afternoon in a line that snaked around the lobby of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

"I guess I just kept putting it off," said Oakland resident Paul Encinas, 32, a video game producer who is running out of coverage after getting laid off a few months ago. "Procrastination, that's why I'm here."

He was one of more than 150 people who crowded the center in just the first 20 minutes of an hours-long enrollment event, all of them seeking help from staff of the Service Employees International Union.

"We're a little bit overwhelmed," said SEIU worker Leon Chow, scanning the crowd for those who needed help with language interpretation.

Many were seeking assistance in Mandarin and Cantonese. Others, such as Encinas, said they just wanted information from any live person after struggling with the Covered California website. He hoped to stay with his current insurer, Cigna, but was not sure how much it would cost.

"I've been trying to get on the damn website for months, and then I just panicked and came down," said Sara Shopkow, 60, a freelance grant writer and editor from Oakland.

She knew she wanted to stick with a Kaiser plan and that it would be $300 less than what she pays now, but she was looking for help with the online sign up.

"I've been waiting for this for years, though I'm a little taken aback it's not more affordable," she said.

At an earlier event at Berkeley City College, Sam Burd, a Covered California certified educator, was directing an Obamacare signup organized by Volunteering for Oakland.

He said he expected about 70 people to sign up. An hour before the event closed, Burd said he was seeing more adults in the 18-to-34-year-old group and more Latinos enrolling than at previous events also hosted by the the organization.

Both groups' enrollment numbers have been lagging, a concern to insurers who had hoped each demographic, which tend to be younger and healthier, would balance out the risk pool of sicker and older enrollees.

Gary Flaxman, 52, of Oakland, was among those happy to sign up for a plan under the landmark health care law, even though he said he doesn't need health insurance at the moment.

"Having said that, I'll probably get hit by a car when I walk out of here," joked Flaxman, an unemployed accounting consultant.

"I am exactly the kind of person who Obama wants to sign up. I'm paying for something I don't need. But I do understand that healthy people need to feed into the system to support the unhealthy, and I'm OK with that."

The next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 for insurance plans that will begin on Jan. 1, 2015.

Enrollment events continue Monday in the Bay Area until 7 p.m. at a Kaiser Permanente retail store located at The Plant Shopping Center, 111 Curtner Ave., #60, in San Jose; from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bay Area Rescue Mission (in the Chapel), 123 MacDonald Ave., Richmond; and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth St., Suite 290, Oakland.

Bay Area News Group writers Doug Oakley and Matt O'Brien also contributed to this report.

Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-920-5343. Follow her at Twitter.com/taseipel.