The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Medical Billing and Coding
Earning an online associate degree in medical billing and coding can prepare graduates for lucrative careers in the healthcare industry. Professionals in this field made a median annual salary of $40,350 in 2018, and those with more specialized skill sets made $63,000. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in the medical records and technology field to grow by 13% through 2026, faster than the national occupational growth average.
Medical billers and coders assist healthcare providers and insurance companies by processing medical information. This begins with the coder — who transfers patient visit reports that detail specific illnesses and procedures — into alpha numeric codes. The coder then sends this data to the biller, who converts them into bills or claims and passes them on to insurance companies. The medical biller also typically collects and processes bill payments.
Although an associate degree in medical billing and coding can lead to further education at the bachelor’s and master’s level, many enter the field directly by obtaining work with healthcare providers.
What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Medical Billing and Coding Program?
Online medical billing and coding associate degree programs usually include general education requirements, coding and billing coursework, and a practicum or internship experience at a nearby site. Billing and coding courses familiarize students with medical terminology, insurance systems, medical code and records systems, and billing processes.
While specific courses vary by program, this article lists descriptions of common core courses in medical billing and coding below.
Common Classes and Coursework
Medical terminology courses introduce the medical language professionals use in healthcare. Coursework ensures that students master correct spelling, pronunciation, abbreviations, and symbols used for medical terms. Learning standard prefixes, roots, and suffixes helps students to understand new terms.
INTERNSHIP OR PRACTICUM
Coding and billing internships and practicums give students the chance to incorporate what they learn as they practice in a workplace context. Meanwhile, students also complete online internship components such as relevant discussions and projects. Students ideally find an internship placement that aligns with their career goals.
MEDICAL BILLING AND REIMBURSEMENT
This course provides students with healthcare business skills, and it introduces the necessary steps in the billing and reimbursement process. Course topics include entry of financial record entry, cash flow monitoring, and payment billing and collecting systems.
ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY
Designed for beginners to the subject, this course introduces basic anatomy and physiology. Students receive an overview of the human body, along with its systems and their functions.
BASIC CODING USING ICD-9 AND ICD-10
Students in this course learn code designations for illnesses and treatments. Learners are introduced to general ICD-9 and ICD-10 coding, as well as specialized coding used to indicate laboratory procedures, pathology, and other specific medical areas.
Skills You Will Gain
Online associate degree programs in medical billing and coding prepare learners with a variety of crucial skills to succeed and advance in the healthcare field. Although many use the associate degree as a foundation for further education in a bachelor’s or master’s degree in billing and coding or a related field, associate programs also qualify their graduates for many entry-level healthcare positions.
These programs help students understand the functioning of America’s healthcare system, as well as how politics and policy shape the system. Students also learn the specific practices and processes involved in running the healthcare system, such as healthcare management responsibilities and legal and ethical industry standards.
A medical and billing associate degree program introduces students to medical terminology and coding systems, teaching students to convert physician’s medical reports into efficient, coded information legible to the other sectors of the healthcare system. These programs also introduce foundational coding systems like the Current Procedural Terminology and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System and the International Classification of Diseases.
Medical billing and coding programs also provide students with computer skills useful in today’s increasingly technology-based healthcare industry. Students learn to enter and analyze medical data and how to turn it into the various types of bills and other forms physician’s offices and insurance companies need to process and collect payment.
Average Degree Length
Earning a medical billing and coding associate degree online can usually save students money, as online associate degrees typically feature lower tuition rates and spare students the additional expenses of commuting or room and board. Online study also allows students to learn from the comfort of their home, tailoring their studies to fit around their personal or professional responsibilities.
Online associate degrees usually require students to complete 60-90 credits, which they can finish in approximately two years if taken full time. To accelerate degree completion, students sometimes transfer credit for prior accredited college coursework or work experience deemed relevant by their degree program.
Career Opportunities With an Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding
An associate degree in medical billing and coding opens several potential career opportunities for aspiring healthcare professionals. While some students use it as a stepping stone toward a bachelor’s degree in a related field, the associate degree in medical billing and coding qualifies graduates for entry-level positions at medical facilities. This degree also sometimes translates to more general, customer service roles, such as a medical secretary or information clerk, and professionals can eventually progress into more specialized billing and coding roles, including information technician, billing clerk, or insurance claims clerk.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Graduates of this associate degree work in various sectors of the healthcare industry, including insurance companies, governmental organizations, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Additionally, they hold job titles such as medical coder, medical records and health information technician, bill and accounts collector, medical records coordinator, and medical receptionist or secretary. Associate degree-holders in this field may also qualify for jobs as clerks who process health information, insurance policy claims, or billing and costs.
Medical Records and Health Information Technician
Although some work from home, most of these professionals spend the day in a medical office. They process medical records, enter data into computers, and safeguard the quality and privacy of this data. While a postsecondary certificate may be adequate, an associate degree increases the likelihood of obtaining desirable employment in this field.
Average Annual Salary: $40,350
Physician's Office Billing Clerk
Billing clerks typically work in doctor’s offices where they process accounting and other data to create invoices for billing patients or suppliers. An associate degree makes candidates for this job more attractive than those with only a high school diploma or certificate.
Average Annual Salary: $39,000
Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerk
These clerks typically work in medical offices or at insurance companies processing insurance claims and other information pertaining to new or modified insurance policies. Job candidates benefit from an associate degree, although a certificate sometimes qualifies them for employment.
Average Annual Salary: $39,310
Medical secretaries perform daily medical office activities such as scheduling appointments, attending to office email and other communications, recording medical chart information, and billing. These professionals require an associate degree or other training that provides specialized knowledge of medical terminology and procedures.
Average Annual Salary: $37,090
Most information clerks work full time in healthcare facilities where they provide patients and visitors with information pertaining to the facility or related facilities. These clerks sometimes also collect information and maintain medical records.
Average Annual Salary: $34,520
5 Medical Billing and Coding Scholarships to Apply For
Medical billing and coding students looking for the most affordable path to their associate degree can apply for merit-based or need-based scholarships. Usually funded by professional organizations, private individuals, or schools, medical billing and coding scholarships help defray student costs and student loan debt.
Aspiring online medical billing and coding students should consult their prospective schools for information about school-based scholarships; however, students also sometimes find other scholarships online, such as the ones listed below. Students usually win these scholarships via a competitive online application process.
- Who Can Apply: AHIMA grants this merit-based scholarship to AHIMA members taking six or more credits who have completed at least 24 credits with a GPA of at least 3.5. Eligible applicants should have at least six credits remaining in a medical billing and coding associate degree program. AHIMA does not consider prior winners eligible while still enrolled in the same program.
- Amount: $1,000
- Who Can Apply: Eligible candidates should be currently enrolled in an entry-level degree program, and demonstrate leadership potential and academic achievement in an allied health field. Applicants require nomination from an institution with ASAHP membership.
- Amount: $1,000
- Who Can Apply: The Allied Healthcare Scholarship addresses the state’s shortage of healthcare professionals by sponsoring candidates who plan to spend at least 12 months working full time in an area designated by HRSA as a shortage area. Applicants cannot have other work obligations and must maintain a six-credit or higher enrollment with a 2.0 GPA minimum.
- Amount: Up to $8,000/year for up to three years.
- Who Can Apply: The New York Health Information Management Association grants this merit scholarship to a New York resident or employee with both AHIMSA and NYHIMA memberships. Eligible candidates boast a 3.0 GPA in a New York State academic program accredited by HIA, HIT, or AHIMA.
- Amount: $1,000
- Who Can Apply: Pennsylvania’s Health Information Management Association grants this scholarship to students enrolled in an accredited academic program or certified independent study program. Eligible applicants maintain AHIMA membership and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.3.
- Amount: $500
Educational Advancement in Medical Billing and Coding
Those holding a medical billing and coding associate degree can transfer core coursework on topics such as medical terminology or healthcare information systems toward a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or a related field. An online associate degree in medical billing and coding introduces students to the healthcare system, medical language, and administrative processes they need to advance their careers.
Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?
Upon finishing an associate degree in medical billing and coding, those interested in increasing their level of specialization, job prospects, and salary often go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Medical billing and coding students interested in a bachelor’s degree program should pay particular attention to accreditation standards, partnerships, and transfer agreements between their associate degree institution and their prospective bachelor’s degree institution.
In many cases, medical billing and coding coursework meets core coursework requirements for bachelor’s programs in a related field. Students should plan an early consultation with academic advisors to explore viable transfer options. This can help students make informed career decisions and often saves them valuable time and money.
What Degree Paths Should You Consider?
An online medical billing and coding associate degree provides an excellent foundation for continued education and careers in related fields. Those interested in managing people and in the business aspects of healthcare often pursue a bachelor’s in business administration or health administration. Meanwhile, those more interested in managing medical information through technology and information systems typically opt for a bachelor’s in health information management.
A healthcare administration degree explores topics like accounting, finance, data collection, marketing, and human resources. Graduates are prepared to perform numerous administrative functions necessary for running a healthcare facility. In addition, administrators mediate between various entities to ensure optimum daily operations and fair treatment of patients and staff. These professionals also monitor the security of their facilities’ information systems, arranging updates when necessary.
Health Information Management
A degree in health information management (HIM) teaches students to use information systems portals to digitize medical records. Coursework in this field includes learning healthcare privacy laws, as well as gaining the necessary technological training to work with medical software. HIM professionals design and monitor health information systems and create related reports. An associate in medical billing and coding provides a good foundation for a HIM bachelor’s program, which qualifies graduates for considerably higher salaries.
Business Administration (Healthcare Concentration)
Many business administration degree programs offer a healthcare concentration that familiarizes students with the economics, business, and accounting dimensions of the healthcare industry. Business administration programs also teach students the legal and ethical complexities that accompany healthcare business.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Professional organizations offer medical coding and billing students and professionals a wealth of information and resources. Many of these organizations provide certificate and training programs, networking opportunities, membership benefits, and numerous free information helpful to those new to the field.
Designed to familiarize nurses with medical billing and coding practices, AACCA offers nurses a certification in coding and auditing that includes a specialty certification exam. The AACCA website also provides information about the difficulties medical providers face as they adapt to the new ICD-10 coding system. Medical coding and billing degree students planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing may find this site particularly relevant.
AHAM, a national membership association of healthcare professionals, focuses on the healthcare revenue cycle and encourages professional development through certification programs, networking opportunities, benchmarking, conferences, seminars, and publications.
The AAPC provides 28 business-related healthcare certifications helpful to medical billing and coding students and professionals. These certifications cover topics such as professional billing, professional service coding, medical compliance, medical auditing, and clinical documentation. The organization also offers training, publications, annual salary surveys, and a variety of tools for those in the medical billing and coding field.
AHIMA, the oldest and premier HIM professional association, has 52 state affiliates. Working to enhance the quality of health records through skillful management of health information, AHIMA provides online education, live meetings, and credentialing programs. They also feature publications including the HIM body of knowledge (BoK), newsletters, and a journal. AHIMA provides a student and career center with resources for education planning, career preparation, and student networking opportunities.
AMBA provides medical billers and students with free webinars and other educational resources, as well as a certification exam and networking opportunities.
AHDI advocates for medical transcriptionists, sponsors a convention, and provides continuing education and certification. AHDI also offers a discounted student membership.
This association trains health professionals and students for a variety of career paths. ARHCP provides lectures, online courses, study aids, and independent-study and certification programs.
HBMA, a nonprofit professional association, advocates, educates, certifies, and collaborates with healthcare billing professionals and others involved in healthcare revenue cycle management.
MAB, a major medical billing and coding credentialing association, offers a certified medical billing specialist (CMBS) credential which it makes accessible to students by partnering with educational institutions. MAB also encourages networking and keeps its members updated on healthcare system changes and trends.
PAHCS, a member support system, facilitates networking and improves the performance of healthcare coders.