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Finnish government agrees on health care reform plan

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The parties in Finland's ruling coalition agreed on Wednesday on a complex reform of health care and regional administration after years of negotiations that almost toppled the center-right government last year.

The deal is likely to soothe fears over the government's ability to pass difficult reforms as the Nordic country's economy slowly returns to growth after a decade of stagnation.

The reform aims to curb future health care costs by around 3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) as Finland struggles with an aging population. Overall, the government plans to find savings worth 10 billion euros to balance public finances over the long term.

The reform opens up business prospects for private players in the health care system and moves responsibility for the provision of services to 18 new health care regions, starting from 2019, from more than 300 local governments at present.

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Prime Minister Juha Sipila threatened to quit last year due to disagreements over the reform among the three coalition parties - the Centre Party with agrarian roots, the nationalist Finns party and the pro-business NCP.

The coalition later agreed on the general reforms, but they had struggled to finalize the details of the package.

"The government now has a common solution on the whole package and the historic reform will finally happen," Sipila, leader of the Centre Party, said, adding that the relevant bills would be sent to parliament in the spring.

The Finnish government has faced demonstrations and strikes over its austerity plans, including a hard-fought labor reform deal which cuts workers' benefits and increases working hours.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Gareth Jones)