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Medical Billing and Coding Careers

Each procedure and diagnosis has an assigned code and for a hospital, diagnostic center or medical provider's office to be reimbursed by an insurance company these codes need to be entered and filed correctly. The relationship between health care providing facilities and health insurance companies has become quite complex with regards to coding and billing. These complexities have created a high demand for professionals formally trained and certified in this field. This is an opportunistic time to become a medical billing and coding specialist.

This is obviously a new era in health care we are entering an many new opportunities for formally trained professionals in health care have been created. A new trend in medical billing and coding has been to freelance or work from home, processing claims and related duties. This is an exciting new vertical to pursue.

The first step to becoming a medical billing and coding specialist is to earn a degree in medical billing and coding, health care information systems or health care administration. An associate degree will get you in the door and qualify you to sit for the national certification exams. If you are interested in an administrator level coding position a bachelor's degree will be necessary. We are here to help you find a program that fits your career goals.

Medical Billing and Coding Certification

Medical billing and coding is not a licensed profession, but credentials do matter. The AAPC reports that certified coders earn an average of 20% more than coders without certification.

New graduates from medical billing and coding schools can often find entry-level employment in smaller physician offices and some health care facilities, but the larger health care practices and organizations will want to see 6 months to one year of work experience and national certification. This is not a bad thing. Many medical billers and coders take jobs upon graduation and study for the certification exam while employed. In many cases, graduates have had their certification exam costs reimbursed by employers and the work experience gained in that time is invaluable.

You earn certification by passing an examination. There are multiple certifying agencies for medical coders, but they’re not all equal. The two that are best known and most respected around the nation are AHIMA and the AAPC. Each offers several credentials.

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC - www.aapc.com) offers three certifications including, CPC, CPC-H and CPC-P. The AAPC offers the CPC (Certified Professional Coder) certification, which is most useful for coders in physician’s office settings. There is also the CPC-H, which is for hospitals and the CPC-P, which is geared toward payers (health plans or Medicare).

When you first earn your AAPC certification, there will be an ‘A’, which stands for apprentice --e.g. CPC-A or CPC-H-A. This can be a disadvantage when you apply for jobs (especially in tight markets). You can remove the ‘A’ from your certification by verifying two years of on the job experience or eighty hours of coursework plus one year of experience. Externships do count toward the experience requirement. These nationally recognized certifications are considered the gold standard in medical coding certification. You'll find medical billers and coders with this certification working in physician offices, hospitals and other top tier health care organizations.

AHIMA certifications don’t have the apprentice designation, but there are still different levels of certification. The key to getting a higher certification is not years on the job -- at least not in a direct way. It can be very hard to earn the higher credential, though, unless you have a lot of experience or are a whiz at studying. The CCA (Certified Coding Associate) is the easiest to earn, but is not as highly valued. The CCS (Certified Coding Specialist) is more of a gold standard, but the exam is far more difficult. Fewer than 50% of candidates pass on a first attempt. AHIMA also offers certification in health information management.

The American Medical Billing Association (AMBA) offers the Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist credentials. (www.ambanet.net/AMBA.htm)

In addition to basic credentials, there are a number of specialty credentials offered through the AAPC. These demonstrate advanced knowledge of coding in particular medical specialties.

For a medical coder, education is ongoing. Continuing education is required for recertification through either organization.

Make sure you speak with your employer or your prospective employer to learn about which coding and billing certifications they require prior to studying or taking an exam.

Salary for Medical Billing and Coding

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) salary survey found that certified medical coders earn, on average, 17% more than non-certified coders. The (AAPC) found reported that coders with a bachelor's degree earned $40,000 to $45,000 a year, while those with an associate's or some college earned $30,000 to $35,000 a year. They found that administrator and consultants averaged more than $85,000 a year. These salaries are consistent with salary.com and payscale. Salaries are impacted by location, facility size, experience, education and other factors. Make sure to check with the employer to see what type of medical billing and coding certification they require and if it will be financially beneficial for you to pursue. You may also enjoy reading, "The Limits of Technology in Health Care" as well as "Steps to Become a Medical Biller and Coder."

Bachelor's in Health Administration - Health Information Systems Degree Option

A bachelor of science in health administration with a specialization in health information systems has become a very popular degree with the implementation of electronic medical records (EMR) in health care agencies across the country from physician offices to the hospital level. Career opportunities in this field are projected to grow as more and more health care facilities upgrade to EMR and other health related technologies. There will be an increasing need for individuals trained in health information systems to manage this complex technology and the people utilizing EMR and other such systems. The health administration courses provide students with knowledge of management, human resources, disease states, finance and accounting. The health information systems specialization will prepare students for the most recent applications of computer technology being used in health care and how to optimally collect, analyze, and use health data. Graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Health Administration with the Health Information Systems specialization will find entry level jobs in smaller facilities and in health information management. According to indeed.com, the average annual salary for professionals in the health information systems field is $56,000. Salaries will depend on location, experience and education.

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