Medical billing and coding is a growing field with strong job prospects. As healthcare providers switch to electronic medical records, the demand for skilled medical billers and coders continues to increase. When considering a career in medical billing and coding, one of the first questions that arises is what degree or certification is required to enter and succeed in this field. There are several educational paths that can lead to a career in medical billing and coding, each with its own advantages. Taking the time to research the options and choose the right path based on your career goals is an important first step.
What are the education requirements for medical billing and coding?
There are no formal educational requirements to become a medical biller or coder. Some employers may prefer candidates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, while others hire candidates with a professional certification. Here are some of the most common education paths:
- Professional certification – Candidates can qualify for entry-level positions with a professional certification like the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) offered by AHIMA or the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) from AAPC. These programs can be completed in a few months up to a year.
- Certificate program – Many community colleges and technical schools offer certificate programs in medical billing and coding that can be completed in 6 months to a year. These provide hands-on training in medical coding systems, healthcare reimbursement, and medical terminology.
- Associate’s degree – An associate’s degree, which takes about two years to complete, provides a solid educational foundation and broader range of career opportunities. Common majors include health information technology and health information management.
- Bachelor’s degree – A four-year bachelor’s degree is required for some leadership roles in the field. Relevant majors include health information management, health sciences, and health administration.
A coding certification or certificate program provides the most direct path into an entry-level coding job for those with no prior experience. But earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can offer advantages like higher salaries, additional job openings, and greater upward mobility.
Which coding certifications are best?
Here are some of the most recognized and respected coding certifications:
Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
Offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the CCA focuses on ICD-10-CM medical coding and CPT coding for outpatient settings. It verifies entry-level competency and is ideal for those just starting out. Exam fee is $299 for AHIMA members.
Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
This certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) covers all settings like physician offices, hospitals, and payers. The CPC exam thoroughly tests medical terminology, code sets, and coding guidelines. The exam fee is $399 for AAPC members.
Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
From AHIMA, this certification builds on the CCA to test proficiency in ICD-10-CM/PCS and CPT coding for inpatient hospital settings. It’s suited for coders with some experience. Exam fee is $299 for AHIMA members.
When deciding between credentials, consider your work setting and if you need broad certification like CPC or specialized credentials like CCS. Both AHIMA and AAPC also offer advanced certifications.
How much does coding certification cost?
Here are the typical costs associated with earning a coding certification:
- Exam fees – $299 to $399 depending on membership status
- Study materials – $300 to $800 for exam prep courses and books
- Membership dues – $175 to $265 annually for AHIMA or AAPC membership
- Continuing education – $55 to $299 annually to maintain certification
Many employers will cover the costs of certification exams and renewals. But even without employer assistance, the investment is reasonable compared to the long-term earning potential of a coding career. Scholarships and financial assistance programs are also available through AHIMA and AAPC.
Which associate degree is best?
An associate’s degree in applied science with a concentration in medical coding, health information technology, or health information management are all excellent choices. Here are a few examples of specific degrees and courses included in the curriculum:
Associate of Applied Science in Medical Billing and Coding
- Medical Terminology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Electronic Health Records
- Healthcare Reimbursement
- Advanced Medical Coding
- Healthcare Compliance and Ethics
Associate of Science in Health Information Technology
- Medical Science
- Classification Systems
- Healthcare Statistics
- Healthcare Database Management
- HIPAA Compliance
- Coding and Billing Practicum
The most important factors are choosing an accredited program and confirming the curriculum aligns with certification exam content. On average, an associate’s degree takes about two years of full-time study to complete.
Which bachelor’s degrees qualify for medical coding jobs?
There are several relevant bachelor’s degrees that can prepare students for leadership roles in the medical coding field:
Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
This degree provides in-depth study of managing patient data, medical coding, data governance, quality management, and healthcare systems. It aligns closely with AHIMA certification exams.
Bachelor of Science in Health Science
A health science degree takes a broader approach that includes health informatics, anatomy, health policy, and administration. Graduates may need to supplement with coding courses.
Bachelor of Science in Health Administration
While not coding-specific, this degree provides managerial skills for overseeing departments and staff involved in medical billing, coding, and related areas.
A bachelor’s degree takes roughly four years to complete full-time. Accelerated and online options allow working professionals to earn their bachelor’s degree on a flexible timeline.
How much does each degree cost?
Here are the typical tuition costs for degrees in medical coding:
|$3,000 – $7,000
|$8,000 – $25,000
|$30,000 – $125,000
Costs vary significantly by school type (public, private, online), state of residency, and number of credits required. Many students qualify for financial aid or scholarships to help cover tuition. An investment in education pays off with higher salaries over a coding career.
How long does it take to complete each program?
|9 months – 1 year
Coding certificates provide the fastest path to entering the field, usually taking less than a year. Associate’s degrees typically take two full-time academic years. Bachelor’s programs usually take students four years to complete. Accelerated options allow earning an associate’s degree in 18 months or a bachelor’s degree in just three years.
Which program provides the best ROI?
While coding certificates have lower upfront tuition costs, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees deliver better return on investment in the long run. Here is an overview of ROI for each program:
- Lower tuition investment of $3,000-$7,000
- Entry-level billing/coding salary of $30,000-$40,000
- Fewer opportunities for advancement
- Tuition of $8,000-$25,000
- Average salary of $40,000-$50,000
- Eligible for more diverse roles with room to advance
- Tuition of $30,000-$125,000
- Highest salaries at $50,000-$65,000
- Qualified for management and leadership positions
While the upfront investment is higher, the earning potential and career growth from an associate’s or bachelor’s degree provide excellent ROI in the medical coding field.
There are several educational paths that can lead to a rewarding career in medical billing and coding. Professional coding certifications offer the fastest route into entry-level jobs. For those seeking higher salaries, more diverse roles, and management potential, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is a worthwhile investment. Carefully weighing the costs, program length, and career outcomes can help choose the best educational path for your goals. With healthcare providers’ increasing reliance on coded data, medical billing and coding specialists will continue to be in high demand.