FAQs about medical billing and coding certification

You count on your health insurance company to pay your medical bills, but in order to do that, companies rely on the work of medical billing and coding professionals. These individuals have extensive knowledge of both medical procedures and insurance billing practices. Using that knowledge, they work on behalf of health care professionals and facilities to assign the right code to the care provided and then bill the health insurance company appropriately. It's a steady career with good job growth, and medical billing salaries can run above the national average, depending on a coder's experience, employer and location.

While the American Academy of Professional Coders, known as AAPC, says a degree isn't necessary to do this work, individuals who are pursuing a career in the field should go through a training program. If you're interested in learning more about medical billing and coding certification and training, check out the answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. What type of medical billing and coding programs are available?

Medical billing and coding schools may offer one or more of the following education options.

  • Certificate:Often the fastest way to enter the field is through a certificate program. These provide the basic knowledge entry-level billers and coders need.
  • Diploma:A medical billing and coding diploma program may also offer instruction in other areas of medical office administration and prepare students for expanded responsibilities upon graduation.
  • Advanced certificate:Some schools may offer an advanced certificate for those who already have medical office experience or a medical billing and coding certificate or diploma. An advanced certificate may be appropriate for those who want to enhance their knowledge or update their skills.
  • Associate degree:Finally, some medical billing and coding schools offer associate degrees. These programs may be specific to billing and coding or encompass the larger field of the health information management.

2. How long does it take to finish a medical billing and coding program?

Program lengths can vary widely by school and the level of degree you're pursuing. However, certificates may often be earned in anywhere from three months to a year. Meanwhile, diploma programs can run between 12 and 18 months, and associate degrees typically take at least two years to complete, or longer if students are attending part time.

3. What do you learn when you study medical billing and coding?

Facts about medical billing careers

*Medical billing & coding jobs should increase 22 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, faster than the national average for all jobs.

*Health information technicians in the U.S. had average annual wages of $34,970 in 2013, per the BLS.

*AHIMA says their coding credentials are the only ones accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

*According to the AAPC, certified coders earn 21 percent more than their non-credentialed counterparts.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Health Information Management Association, American Academy of Professional Coders

As with completion times, program curriculums can vary. According to the AAPC, medical billers and coders need to have a strong understanding of all the following.

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Types of health insurance plans
  • Government regulations

Currently, medical coders are using ICD-9 codes, but that system is transitioning to ICD-10, which means students may want to ensure their chosen program will provide the instruction needed for the new system.

Medical billing and coding schools may also help students hone the skills needed to be successful in the field. Because of the precise nature of their work, as well as their access to confidential information, billers and coders must be detail-oriented, ethical and tech-savvy.

4. How can I choose the right program?

Unlike some other fields of study, there is no specific accrediting body for medical billing and coding schools although institutions may be accredited by other regional or national accrediting bodies.

Students planning to pursue a professional certification in the field may want to look for a program approved by an organization such as the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Approved programs are most likely to provide students with the knowledge and preparation needed to pass certification exams.

Beyond looking for an approved program, students should consider the length of time needed to complete a program and its expected career outcomes. For example, students hoping to fill office roles behind simply billing and coding may be best served by earning an associate degree. Meanwhile, those looking to enter the workforce quickly may want to consider a certificate program.

Start by comparing medical billing schools to see what on-campus and online opportunities might suit you best.

5. Can you learn medical billing and coding online?

Yes. Because medical billing and coding work relies heavily on technology, it is a field particularly well-suited to online learning.

Students may be able to choose from self-paced programs, which can be completed on any schedule, or more traditional programs that have set deadlines for course completion. In some cases, schools may offer online students the opportunity to participate in classroom activities or labs which provide in-person experience after the online coursework has been completed.

To find the right online medical billing and coding school, students may want to ask the following questions.

  • Does the program prepare students for professional certification?
  • Is the curriculum the same as that offered through on-campus programs?
  • Do students need to log-in at certain times or can they access course materials at any time?
  • What student support services are offered?
  • Is there an opportunity for an externship, internship or other real-world experience?
  • What are the expected career outcomes from this program?

6. What types of medical billing and coding certification are available?

Medical billers and coders do not need to be licensed, nor do they have any mandatory certification requirements. However, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) are two organizations offering voluntary medical billing and coding certifications.

Through the AAPC, individuals can earn the following credentials.

  • Certified Professional Coder
  • Certified Professional Coder - Hospital Outpatient
  • Certified Professional Coder - Payer
  • Certified Inpatient Coder
  • Certified Professional Biller

The AAPC also offers 22 specialty coder certifications for experienced professionals who have expertise in certain areas such as dermatology or cardiology.

At the AHIMA, billers and coders can earn the following designations.

  • Certified Coding Associate
  • Certified Coding Specialist
  • Certified Coding Specialist - Physician-based

Although professional certification is voluntary, individuals may find having recognized credentials enhances their career opportunities and income potential.

1. Medical Coding Certification, American Academy of Professional Coders, https://www.aapc.com/certification/medical-coding-certification.aspx
2. "What is Medical Coding?", American Academy of Professional Coders, https://www.aapc.com/medical-coding/medical-coding.aspx
3. Certificate vs. Degree, American Health Information Management Association, http://www.ahima.org/careers/plan?tabid=cert
4. Types of Certification, American Health Information Management Association, http://www.ahima.org/certification/exams?tabid=coding
5. Medical Coding and Billing Certificate vs. Diploma, Penn Foster Student Community, http://community.pennfoster.edu/thread/4565
6. Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm

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