As senior director of health policy for Families USA, Eliot said, he will “work a lot with a huge network of state and local advocacy partners, and we are also very involved in national debates over the future of health insurance and how health care is provided.”
“My job is to run our policy department,” he said. “We write policy analysis, which is disseminated widely around health policy issues, always from a ‘how-will-this-affect-consumers-and patients’ perspective. Lately, we have spent much of our time opposing the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Eliot draws a straight line from his long career devoted to health-care policy to the concept of chesed.“I would emphasize something specific about halachah in this context. If you learn, for example, Massechet Pe'ah, it involves detailed regulations regarding rules like leket, leaving unpicked crops behind for the poor,” he said. “Well, we also have regulations in America! In Jewish tradition, it's not enough to be charitable and caring in your day-to-day life. Of course you do have to be those things. But there is also a set of specific, communal legal obligations to provide for poor people that are further detailed and legally enforceable.”
Although his goal after college was to be a political science professor, Eliot recalled that “in 1999, when I was almost finished with graduate school at Yale, I had two kids and my wife was working in New York City. It was clear that an academic career was going to involve at least one or two relocations before I settled into a longer-term position.”
“I had to decide if I really wanted to be an academic enough to justify that disruption for my family,” Eliot continued. He said he decided “to do something that would involve more front-line policy work rather than teaching and writing.”
“I knew I would be doing something related to health or social policy,” he said. “I was lucky that a health policy professor at Yale took me under his wing for a few months as a research assistant, and I was even more lucky that he connected me to a brilliant health policy wonk named Bruce Vladeck who was starting a think tank in New York.” Eliot became a principal at Health Management Associates, a consulting firm specializing in Medicaid and other health policy issues for low-income people, and was a vice president in the Metropolitan Jewish Health System, a large non-profit integrated delivery system in New York.
Before joining Families USA, Eliot was director of the State Demonstrations Group at the Center for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program Services at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). He led the federal government’s work negotiating with states on Medicaid waivers. He also served as director of the Children and Adults Health Programs Group at CMS and as director of the Office of Policy in the New Jersey Department of Health.
Eliot acknowledged that he is concerned about the potential short-term impact of changes in health-care policy under the new federal administration. “That guarantee is gravely threatened on multiple fronts,” he said, noting that “the change in administration was definitely an important factor in my move out of the public sector, although I also found a great opportunity at Families USA.”
“In the long term I am less concerned,” he emphasized. “The American public is, by and large, committed to the idea that every citizen should have a guarantee of health insurance. That's part of the basic social compact in every other advanced country -- and many not-advanced countries -- and it has taken us far too long to get there.”
And that’s chesed, pure and simple. “I talk with my kids about this all the time when I talk to them about why I am observant,” Eliot said. “You can barely find a perek in Tanach without a chesed message of some kind, and it is a huge theme in Gemaratoo. This is also not just a matter of text study but of the models of personal behavior provided by my teachers at Maimonides.”