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The state of Minnesota is expanding health care coverage to thousands of uninsured children.

The new initiative, first approved by the Legislature in 2009 and finally implemented this month, will erase barriers like waiting periods and monthly insurance premium payments for coverage. Some 16,000 children from lower-income families could now be eligible for health insurance.

Gloria Agbator wept when she heard the news.

A single working mother, she had health insurance for herself through her job, but couldn't afford the hundreds of extra dollars a month it would have cost to include her three children on the plan.

"I'm really happy about it," said Agbator, who is battling pneumonia right now and was terrified that her children – a 14-year-old and 10-year-old twins – would get sick too. "I was so scared for my kids…This program is going to be a really good blessing to my family."

The healthcare expansion is targeted to working families like hers; those making between 150 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level. Agbator, who works as a program manager for a group home in Dakota County, had been worried about how she would afford her children's back-to-school checkups and vaccinations when she got news of the program change.

"I'm crying, but I'm happy," she said. "I work full-time, but I can't afford to pay for my children's health insurance."

The state estimates that more than 70,000 Minnesota children do not have health insurance. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called that statistic "unacceptable and un-Minnesotan" as he announced the new initiative at the Capitol Thursday morning.

Thissen noticed that Minnesota, long-recognized as a state with some of the strongest children's health programs in the nation, recently lipped from second to fifth-best in the nation, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"That trend has been going in the wrong direction, so I'm glad we could stand here today and talk about moving forward on something and providing coverage to kids so they can get the care they need to stay healthy," said Thissen, who was joined at the press conference by Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

The healthcare expansion will cost about $11 million a year by the time it's fully implemented 2014, with the federal government picking up half the cost, Thissen said. Although the reforms passed in 2009, the state had to wait for federal approval to put the changes into effect.