Medical billing and coding is a popular subfield of the growing health information technology field. An entry-level credential in this industry marries two in-demand occupational fields: big data and healthcare services. Thus, medical billing and coding can open many doors of opportunity. It can also lead to secure and respectable careers for professionals trained to work with electronic health records. Good news, right?
Even better, qualifying for financial aid and earning a medical billing and coding associate degree while enrolled online is possible. To break into this subfield of the medical industry, you don’t need tons of tuition money or a morning commute. When you’re enrolled online, all you need is a desire to learn medical terminology and a willingness to complete assignments! In this article, we’ll provide a sample of the many hats one can wear with a medical billing and coding associate degree (online or otherwise). We’ll also explore how an online associate program in medical billing and coding can jumpstart an even more lucrative career in the industry.
This is perhaps the most obvious career choice for accredited medical billing and coding program graduates. A medical coder is a specific type of health information specialist in the healthcare industry. They assign the correct medical codes for diagnostic and treatment procedures. They usually work at a medical facility, including physicians’ offices. Their work requires specialized knowledge of business communication, medical terminology, and procedure codes for medical records. A certified coding specialist, also called a certified professional coder, also ensures accurate bills for patients and insurance companies. They ensure these bills reflect the health care services administered by a doctor or other medical professional.
You’ll need more than just a coding course for this position, though. Whether applicants need a medical coding degree vs. a certificate will be up to the individual employer. Still, an increasing number of hospitals and medical facilities mandate that their medical coders hold a two-year technical degree, like an associate degree and coding certification. One example is an AAS associate degree program in medical billing and coding. Distance learning coding programs offer medical billing and coding classes as a convenient pathway toward such a credential for online students. Thus, many prospective medical coders choose to earn their associate degrees in medical coding and billing online. An online medical coding program may be more accessible for students with jobs and families. There may also be specific licensing requirements to become a certified coding associate.
A medical billing and coding degree salary may end up being higher than what a certificate or diploma will earn you in the field. Annual wages for medical records and health information specialists can vary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pay ranges from just $28,800 to over $73,000 annually. The discrepancy in pay can be attributed to differences in education and experience. Entry-level positions will invariably pay less, for example.
Some employers may ask for a medical billing and coding degree for employment. Almost all request a professional certification in billing and coding procedures. The standard is the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) license. This is available from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). You’ll be required to pass an exam successfully to earn a certificate. Most online medical billing and coding degree programs include test-prep coursework and coding training. These classes provide specific coding guidelines that will help you earn a passing score on the certified coding specialist exams required of coding professionals.
While they’re often confused, the jobs of a medical biller versus a medical coder are actually quite distinct. A medical coder uses knowledge of medical terminology and current procedural terminology to input codes and medical records into a coding system. These codes correspond with specific medical procedures and diagnoses. Meanwhile, a medical billing specialist uses this inputted data to send bills and file insurance claims. Billers are also responsible for liaising between health insurance companies and patients in healthcare settings. They manage complex billing issues. Some of these include covered/noncovered expenses from healthcare providers and preexisting conditions. They may also handle medical insurance approvals/denials for health services.
There are other key differences between the sub-fields of medical coding and medical billing. Of particular note is the difference in job outlook. The BLS reports a faster-than-average growth rate for coders, so there will be many job prospects. But the same is not valid for the occupation of medical billing. In fact, the Bureau reports a minuscule growth projection of just 2 percent during the decade between 2019 and 2029. Medical coding may be your best bet if you’re looking for job security in healthcare administration.
Still, entry-level position requirements for medical billing and coding jobs are similar. For both, you’ll need to complete either a certificate/diploma program in the field or earn a two-year billing and coding associate degree. The preferred degree is usually an online Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding. An example would be the online medical billing associate degree. This can be completed by taking online courses. Professional certification is also a standard for employment in both medical billing and coding. But specific licenses may vary. The Certified Professional Biller (CPB) certification is available from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). This is the preferred credential for procedure coding and medical billing.
Pay for these two entry-level roles in medical office administration is also reasonably comparable. According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median salary for medical records and health info specialists (including coders) is $44,090. The Bureau reports the average annual salary for billing and posting clerks (including billers) to be slightly less at $39,590.
Another job title in the field of health information technology is cancer registrar. This is a position that online associate’s degree holders can pursue after graduation from one of the nation’s many medical billing and coding schools. Cancer registrars are health information specialists. They’re trained to input data into the national cancer registry—a database of cancer patients in the United States. This registry helps doctors and medical researchers study cancer. This coding process aims to find better treatment and discover a cure for the disease. Like other jobs in the field, this position requires advanced knowledge of medical terminology. It also demands a commitment to patient confidentiality.
Jobs for all health info specialists are currently in high demand. Still, the BLS reports a considerable increase in employment opportunities for cancer registrars. That’s because the large baby boomer population is aging, and their risk for diseases such as cancer increases as they get older.
Regarding pay, it seems cancer registrars may make slightly more on average than other medical coding specialists. The BLS groups salary information for cancer registrars in with all medical billing and coding associate degree salary data. But PayScale specifically reports that cancer registrars’ median annual salary is $46,715.
To become a registrar, you’ll need a two-year degree. An example would be the best online Associate of Applied Science degree in health sciences. Online medical billing and coding programs would also suffice. You may want to specialize in this sub-field. To do so, look for a medical coding program with curriculum concentrations in cancer information management. You’ll also need to pass the exam to get coding certifications from the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA).
Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
This is one of the more prestigious coding careers with a medical billing and coding degree. Compared to billers and coders, an RHIT takes on more of a supervisory role in the field of health information systems. RHITs do more than simply input medical terminology data into a specialized medical database. They are also responsible for making sure records are complete and accurate. This could mean conferring with other health info specialists or medical staff such as nurses and doctors. RHITs may also be tasked with analyzing health information. But this depends on their specific roles within the healthcare facility. This task is necessary to create reports on patient outcomes or hospital costs.
Registered health information techs are some of the highest-paid professionals in their field. PayScale reports a median annual salary of approximately $56,000 per year. Not all employees with this title make the same amount, though. It’s essential to keep in mind that individual salaries may vary significantly. Contributing factors may include geographical location, specific healthcare setting, and years of experience.
To become a Registered Health Information Tech (RHIT), you’ll need an associate’s degree credential. This could be the best online Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding you can find. The online Associate degree in Health Information Technology (HIT) or health information systems is a more common alternative. Many employers prefer that applicants graduate from accredited medical billing and coding institutions. These are schools accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). As for program format, many of these schools have online medical billing programs. Additionally, candidates are often required to hold professional certification. This certification is provided by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This license can be obtained by sitting for certification exams like the Registered Health Information Tech Exam (RHIT). For prospective RHITs, pursuing a two-year degree in HIT is advantageous instead of an associate’s in medical billing and coding degree. That is, these former programs usually provide specific preparation for the RHIT certification exams. Coding programs do not. This could be a review course before testing day or extra health information tech courses.
Medical Billing Manager
Another management role one can pursue with an associate degree in medical coding, and billing is the role of a medical billing manager. These are administrative professionals in the healthcare information technology field. They oversee medical billers and coders in a hospital or other large medical facility. Medical billing managers must have in-depth knowledge of medical coding, billing, and medical terminology. Leadership and management skills are also necessary. They must be able to check the work of the medical billers and coders on their teams while also managing staff efficiently.
Not all employers of medical billing managers are alike. Some won’t consider candidates with a two-year degree, such as one of the best online Associate of Applied Science degree programs in medical billing and coding. Many will prefer an online associate program in health information management instead. Moreover, most healthcare facilities will look at an applicant’s experience in the field. They may hire a candidate who has worked with healthcare information the longest. They could choose one with advanced knowledge of current procedural terminology. You’ll want to have at least a year of experience working in medical billing or coding before applying for a management position.
Pay for medical billing manager jobs rivals that of a registered health information technician (RHIT). PayScale reports that these types of managers make a median salary of roughly $55,500 per year.
They may be overqualified for the job. Still, some healthcare information specialists with degrees from medical billing and coding schools may find work as transcriptionists. In the medical field, transcriptionists are entry-level professionals. They’re trained to transcribe dictations made by doctors, nurses, and other medical providers. They must have specialized knowledge of medical terminology. But knowledge of medical coding is not usually required.
A two-year credential may be overkill for the role of a transcriptionist. That includes the AAS medical billing and coding program. But that doesn’t mean employers will dismiss candidates with this best online associate degree. For prospective students, such a degree could boost your chances of getting a job. Still, most medical transcriptionists hold a high school diploma and a one-year, non-degree credential. For instance, this could be a professional certificate or diploma earned from a coding program.
Jobs for transcriptionists don’t usually ask for a coding associate degree program or an online medical billing credential. Thus, they’re some of the lower-paying occupations for health information professionals. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for transcriptionists is just over $35,000 annually.
Patient Information Coordinator
Your two-year medical billing and coding degree could also qualify you for a job as a patient info coordinator. This is a lesser-known role in healthcare information technology. It is comparable to medical coding and billing, but there are differences. For example, it focuses more on patient-centric data such as symptoms, medical tests, and diagnoses. These healthcare professionals must deal with requests for access to patient records. That means they must be knowledgeable about laws governing health information at the local and national levels. Patient info coordinators may work on a team. This team might include other health information technology professionals, including medical billers and coders.
As for salary, patient info coordinators make less than coders/billers. But they make more than medical transcriptionists. According to Zip Recruiter, the nationwide average is just under $39,000 annually.
Investing in an Online Associate Degree in Medical Coding and Billing
As you perused these available jobs for associates in medical billing and coding degrees, you probably noticed that they’re not the highest-paying occupations in the medical field. This realization can bring on concerns about doling out money for tuition. After all, there’s a return on investment to consider! Fortunately, many accredited medical billing and coding schools offer financial aid options. Financial aid could include scholarships and grants that don’t have to be paid back. These programs make earning a two-year degree in health information technology practical for many students. There are clear advantages, including both affordability and convenience. Thus, it’s hard to deny the appeal of pursuing a medical billing and coding associate degree.
A Springboard to a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information
Still, deciding whether a medical billing and coding degree is worth the investment? Consider that coding programs like these can be a stepping stone toward an even more valuable credential. One example is the four-year degree in health information tech/management. The credits you earn in medical billing and coding online associate degree can often transfer to a four-year degree plan. This can shorten your time to completion and cut tuition costs as well. These bachelor’s degree programs often come with their own set of financial aid opportunities.
With an undergraduate degree in health information, you’ll earn more than you would with just an online associate’s credential. This includes the Bachelor of Health Information Management. PayScale reports the average base salary for professionals with this degree to be approximately $68,000 per year. BLS reports say that’s nearly $25,000 more annually than what you’d make with a two-year degree. Such a salary boost makes your return on investment much higher. Plus, many online medical billing and coding schools offer financial aid opportunities, not to mention student support services like academic advising and career resources.
Health Information Manager
With your associate’s in medical billing and coding in hand, you can go on to pursue a coveted credential. That is, the bachelor’s degree in health information management. This credential will qualify you for the prestigious role of health information manager. These professionals play supervisory roles in the field of health information. They provide critical oversight of the work of other health information tech professionals in healthcare settings. Examples include medical billers, coders, and even registered health information technicians (RHITs). When handling patient account management, health information managers must also keep patient data and other private medical data secure and deal with. They may also deal with legal and ethical issues.
A bachelor’s degree in health info management may qualify you for this position. But many employers prefer other qualifications on top of your undergraduate credential. For example, you may need some experience working in health information as a medical biller or coder. Candidates with professional certifications from respected industry organizations may have better job prospects. This includes the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Sometimes, a master’s degree in health information management may be mandated or preferred.
Health information professionals with these qualifications will enjoy many opportunities in various healthcare settings. Employment opportunities for medical and health services managers are growing at a breakneck pace. This includes health information managers. Between 2019 and 2029, job openings are expected to increase by 32%. This will add over 133,000 new positions for qualified applicants in the field of health information data. That’s According to the BLS.
Graduating with an online medical billing and coding degree can be life-changing. These online programs could have promising results for your future career in health information tech. You may enter the field as a certified coding associate after earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding. Or you could use this online learning experience as a launching point for your bachelor’s degree in the field. Either way, once you’re enrolled online, you’re bound to have limitless possibilities in this high-tech and ever-expanding healthcare field.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- PayScale: Salary Data and Career Research Center
- ZipRecruiter: Salaries