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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given North Carolina $8.6 million to expand community health centers in the state.

That money is a portion of the $337.9 million that the department is allocating to health centers across the country through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The funds comes as a result of the large numbers of people who have lost their health insurance because of the recession.

From 2007 to 2009 the number of people without insurance increased by 22.5 percent — the largest increase in the country" according to a report by the N.C. Institute of Medicine.

""Community health centers are one of the main places people go who don't have health insurance because they see a large number of people without coverage"" said Adam Searing, project director for N.C. Health Access Coalition.

As of January, about 1.8 million North Carolinians did not have health insurance.

Vice President Joe Biden visited the state Wednesday to highlight the benefits of stimulus money in rural health care centers.

The funds for the health centers can be used for renovation and repairs, electronic medical records and health services.

One of the main intents of the funds is to create jobs and sustain health centers in these tough economic times"" said LaTasha Bennett, information and communications specialist for the N.C. Community Health Center Association.

Health centers are important at this time because there are more people now who need to rely on them. But the more people they serve, the higher their costs go, which has made the recession have a greater impact.

Health centers treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay" Bennett said. They often treat a vulnerable population" and they provide access to anyone to receive primary care services.""

The two N.C. health centers that have received funds are located in Gastonia and Lenoir.

Any of the 28 health centers in North Carolina can still apply to receive money from the grant.

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