Makayla Palmer poses in the Xeric Garden on UNLV's campus.

The Interview: Makayla Palmer

A health economist in the Lee Business School, her research interests center around policies addressing the health of low-income and at-risk infants and children.

During the holiday season, this new assistant professor of economics is looking forward to her family’s tradition of making and eating red pickles, which are sweet cinnamon pickles. It requires a multi-day canning process so they make large quantities at one time and then ration them over holidays.

Why UNLV?

Being an economics professor at UNLV is an incredible opportunity and I am so grateful to be here! UNLV is an innovative school in an innovative state and I am excited about the health research that I can do here. I could tell the economists in the department are supportive of each other, collaborative, and productive. It is also nice to be back in the West, surrounded by mountains and away from humidity.

A little about your background

I recently earned a Ph.D. in economics from Georgia State University in Atlanta and moved to Las Vegas to teach at UNLV and help launch the Health for Nevada Initiative. The new research cluster group brings together researchers from different disciplines across campus who will focus on health disparities in Nevada.

Inspiration to get into your field

When I first became interested in economics I was interested in economic development and how foreign aid could help, or hurt, developing countries. I was excited about the power economics could have in helping improve the lives of people living in poverty. However, when I went to graduate school I became interested in government provision of health care for the poor and vulnerable populations in the United States. Similar to the appeal of economic development, I believe health economics is full of intellectually interesting questions that can contribute to important and practical improvements in the lives of disadvantaged populations.

Health issues you are researching

I am currently working on how managed care insurance affects health care utilization of foster children relative to fee-for-service payments. A movement away from fee-for-service could lead to reductions in care for these children with extensive health needs, but it could also improve care coordination. Another current research interest centers around how marketplace eligibility under the Affordable Care Act affects pregnancies and female labor decisions.  

What is the Health for Nevada Initiative and what will you be doing?

The new research cluster group has been created to bring together researchers from different disciplines working on health topics with a special focus on Nevada and health disparities. The group is in the process of hiring a director and several more faculty positions, which will help finalize the details of the research agenda. So far, I have enjoyed meeting other health researchers at UNLV to explore collaborations and projects that can hopefully improve health in Nevada.

What drives you?

I want my research to help improve health care access and quality, particularly for vulnerable populations. Finding ways to do this which also are cost-effective is critical as health care continues to be a growing share of the government’s and individuals’ budgets.

What do laypeople usually ask you about your field?

People most commonly ask me my thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, why health insurance is so expensive, or what we should do to improve health care. There are no straightforward answers to those questions. Health care markets differ in important ways from standard markets and this makes health policy complex. It is important to understand adverse selection, moral hazard, externalities, and the equity issues at play when evaluating health care policies and how they make trade-offs between these issues.

If space tourism advances to the point where a roundtrip to Mars were possible, would you go if the shortest trip was three years?

I think there are a lot of important details missing that I would need to make that decision (price, health risks, what you would do on Mars for three years, etc.), but I would probably prefer to spend three years exploring Earth.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I played underwater hockey for three years while living in Atlanta.

What is the most Vegas thing you’ve done since you arrived here?

I went to the Cirque du Soleil O show.I have always been amazed by synchronized swimming and find it so beautiful and impressive I took a couple synchro courses growing up, but had to stick with competitive swimming because I was not talented enough for synchro. The O show was my top Vegas attraction, and it was great.

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