Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), announced at 9:25 a.m. that the new PPACA public exchanges are “open for business,” in spite of budget battles that have led to a partial shutdown of the federal government

HHS spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt said at midday Tuesday that more than 1 million people had visited the HHS PPACA exchange site, HealthCare.gov, in the past day. 

“There were five times more users on the marketplace website this morning than have ever been on the Medicare.gov at one time,” the spokeswoman said. 

Early in the day, users were getting error messages and messages about the site being overloaded. 

The spokeswoman said HHS expects the site to speed up in the coming hours. 

Officials recommended that consumers who need immediate help contact the exchange call center, use the live chat function, or go to Localhelp.healthcare.gov to find in-person assisters in their communities. 

In Maryland, a state with a state-based exchange, the exchange website broke down soon after it went live at 8 a.m. The site resumed operations at noon. Exchange managers cited “connectivity problems” with computers as the reason for the delay. 

New York State’s exchange began operating at 8 a.m. and received 2 million visits in the first hour and a half, “which far exceeds what we were expecting,” said James O’Hare, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, according to the New York Times. Though some consumers encountered error messages or delays, the site was functioning and processing applications, though how many was not known, O’Hare said.

Kentucky’s exchange went live at midnight. By 9:30 a.m., it had received 24,000 visitors and processed more than 1,000 applications, said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state’s health care agency, the Times said. “The high volume of traffic is causing a few technical glitches,” presenting problems for people who want to apply but not for those who are just browsing, she said.

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