In writing a story on the private option recently, I reviewed the Talk Business discussion last week between John Brummett and the two Republican legislators co-chairing the Health Reform Task Force, Rep. Charlie Collins and Sen. Jim Hendren, and was struck by something Hendren said in the context of recent news from the Capitol:

Anytime you begin to manipulate the market, you’re asking for trouble. That’s not how our society — that’s not how you generate productive behavior. It has to be based on market-driven forces, and throwing a billion dollars into a program, putting all these healthy people in the program … to drive down the rates for everybody else — that’s not how the market driven economy works.

Hendren was talking about the Medicaid expansion, of course, but I wonder whether his concern about government distorting the workings of the free market extends to economic development incentives. Will he apply the same principles to the Lockheed Martin superproject that Gov. Asa Hutchinson — his uncle — will soon convene the legislature to approve?

The task force Hendren co-chairs was created to figure out a means of continuing coverage for the 230,000 people who’ve gained insurance since Arkansas enacted the private option — a form of Medicaid expansion — in 2013. The obvious way to continue coverage for those citizens is this: Keep the private option. But because the program is made possible through the Affordable Care Act, and because Republican legislators are required to detest Obamacare as a matter of course, we’ve got to talk about replacing it with … something.

Hendren said in the interview that he wouldn’t rule out pulling the plug on the program, in part because he wasn’t convinced that those hundreds of thousands of low-income Arkansans really needed insurance in the first place. Maybe it’d be better to stick with a non-system of hospitals providing charity care, in other words. The quote above came from his response to a point made by Brummett that providing insurance to people who can’t otherwise afford it holds down the cost of insurance for everyone.

In Hendren’s view, it’s simply impossible that any long-term good could come of providing a benefit with public money, because that tampers with the natural order of things. Inserting government into the equation amounts to manipulating the market; it’s simply wrong. The problem is that the government manipulates the market all the time, every single day. Every agricultural subsidy, every contract with every vendor, every loan guarantee, every federally insured bank account. 

Case in point: Issuing bonds to help finance a company’s investment in a decades-long, multi-billion-dollar project — which itself would be funded by a contract with the U.S. military. Talk about government interference with the invisible hand.