Some people view medical coding and billing as one and the same, but they’re actually two very different jobs. Medical coders take information from patient charts, physician notes, and other medical records and convert that information into a series of codes. Those codes then to go the medical biller, who processes the codes and sends them to the insurance company to request reimbursement for services rendered. Coders and billers work together to help ensure accurate reporting to the insurance company and avoid denials.
Although medical billing and medical coding are two different things, they often can be taught together, thus preparing graduates to handle either aspect. Since billers and coders have very little contact with patients and thus don’t require hands-on training, these programs are perfect to take partially, mostly, or fully online. If you’re a highly organized individual who enjoys technical tasks and wants to work in the medical field, medical billing and/or coding might be the best job for you. Let’s take a look at how to get started on a promising career.
Best Online Schools for Medical Billing and Coding (2019)
Many schools offer medical billing and coding programs. That said, it’s important to remember that not all are created equal. School profiles are a highly valuable tool to help aspiring students narrow down that long list of options to find the programs that fit their needs. We’ve decided to list and spotlight some of today’s most notable medical billing and coding schools online, many of which have affordable cost structures, the right accreditation, and the job placement services you need to begin a successful medical billing or coding career. Let’s see who stands out in 2019.
Spotlight: Southeast Technical Institute
Those who want to explore the possibilities of an associate degree can opt for the Medical Coding: Professional and Facility Applied Associate Degree. In this hybrid program, students take most courses online but are required to visit the campus once per week. The Bring-Your-Own-Laptop curriculum prepares students to review medical documentation, apply coding guidelines, assign proper codes based on different coding systems and understand reimbursement and reporting, among other duties.
Students will complete a total of 67 credits for graduation, which include general education courses. Those courses lay a strong educational foundation that allows you to move into a bachelor’s degree program at some point, if that’s what you choose to do to further your career. Sample courses found within the major include:
Introduction to Health Information Systems
Basic ICD Coding
Basic CPT Coding
Professional Ethics in Healthcare
Students can expect to pay tuition, fees, and the cost of books and supplies; during the most recent school year, this came to a total of $18,517. Students can apply for financial aid to cover some of the cost; they can also opt to go with a diploma or certificate program, which can save time and money, but doesn’t provide the educational stepping-stone they would receive through the associate program.
Upon completion, students are prepared to sit for the following exams:
Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC)
Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
Those seeking the CCS should keep in mind that two years of work experience is recommended, in addition to completing a higher education program, in order to sit for the exam.
By the time you graduate, expect to be well-versed in practical application of codes, auditing of medical records, various types of computerized billing and insurance software, accurately interpreting medical records, and creating correct documentation and coding information to submit to insurance companies through the claims process.
The Professional Medical Billing and Coding Program at Great Basin College prepares students to jump into the profession with the most up-to-date information possible. Over the course of the program students will learn about medical terminology, different insurance forms and procedures, solving problems with insurance companies, understanding and implementing ICD-10 codes, gaining familiarity with ICD-10, CPT and HCPCS manuals, learning to trace claims, and develop a firm understanding of computerized medical billing systems.
All courses are delivered online. Students can expect to take 17 course modules, divided into seven classes. All units must be complete within two consecutive semesters in order to receive the certificate of achievement. Students must score an 85% in all areas, and missing a due date means you will not pass the course.
Assessments may be taken several times, but it’s important to remember that late assessments are not accepted. Forty-eight hours is allowed to take the final exam (actual hands-on time will be between seven and eight hours), and students can retake the exam two weeks later if they are unhappy with their grade performance.
At the completion of the program, students are well-versed in medical billing and coding and are eligible to sit for the following certification examinations:
Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
Certified Coding Associates (CCA)
Certified Professional Coder – Hospital (CPC-H)
Graduates are also prepared to take the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) exam, but keep in mind that two years of experience are recommended on top of the education in order to sit for the CCS.
Why Take Medical Billing & Coding Classes Online?
Many people have plenty of obligations, such as a full-time job, a family or community responsibilities that make it tough to take time off to sit in a classroom for several hours each day. Online learning is great for those who need more flexibility while working toward their certificate, diploma, or degree.
Medical billing and
coding programs lend themselves well to the online learning world, as
most of the courses can be completed entirely through the internet,
with no need to set foot in a classroom. Let’s break down the pros:
Online learning is inherently flexible in that students can fit in their classwork between their day-to-day obligations. Medical billing and coding programs are especially flexible because they do not require a hands-on component. Since there is little to no patient contact in the course of the medical billing or coding job, students are not subject to the same requirements that some allied health professionals must meet (such as medical assistants and home health aides). This means students can complete their online coursework and be ready to move right into the workforce.
Since online programs don’t require the overhead of a classroom, they are naturally more affordable. In the case of medical billing and coding programs, the short length is also a factor in affordability – the less time a person spends in a program, the less they will pay to complete it. Affordability does vary depending upon the program itself, as well as the credential earned at the end of it – for instance, a one-year program resulting in a certificate will be much more affordable than a two-year program resulting in an associate degree – but in general, the medical billing and coding programs tend to be some of the more affordable short-term educational opportunities.
Time to graduation
Online students have the advantage of choosing accelerated programs to make the process of getting a credential even faster. For instance, medical billing and coding students might opt for an accelerated program that delivers information over a nine-month period rather than one year. That three months of time saved can allow students a bit of free time to study for the certification exam (if they choose to take it), or simply allows them to get into the workforce and earn a paycheck sooner. Though all online programs require discipline to stay focused and on top of the class schedule, accelerated programs require even more dedication, but can be well worth the money and time saved.
Types of Online Medical Billing & Coding Programs
Aspiring students have several options for their educational pursuit – you can move into a billing and coding position with a certificate, diploma or associate degree. But what are the differences? Is there something that makes one path better than the other? To put it simply, the path you choose depends upon where you want your career path to lead. Here’s what you need to know about each option:
By definition, a certificate refers to an academic course of study in a specific subject – so it’s targeted, teaching you only what you need to know for medical billing and coding. And though many post-secondary institutions might use “certificate” or “diploma” interchangeably, in most cases the certificate will turn out to be the shorter of the two, lasting just a few months. The good news is that it gets you into the workforce faster; the bad news is that it may not lead to college credit, which can be disappointing if you choose to further your career later.
Bottom line: Certificate programs are
best for individuals looking to start working as a medical biller and
coder as fast as possible.
Diploma programs typically take a bit longer than a certificate but less time than an associate degree. They are found online and on traditional campuses. Some diploma programs have full-length courses that can translate into college credit if you ever want to continue your education; however, most of them are much like certificates in that the goal is to get into the workforce in the least amount of time.
Bottom line: Diploma programs are best
for those who need to start working as soon as possible, but also
want the opportunity to acquire additional knowledge and skills
compared to their certificate earning counterparts.
Usually taking two years to complete, an associate degree includes general education courses in addition to the major courses for medical billing and coding. This means a well-rounded education that allows for transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, if that’s what you choose. It can also mean better job opportunities, as many employers will prefer to hire those who have a degree. The disadvantage is a matter of time and money: The associate degree is often more expensive than a certificate or diploma, and it lengthens the time it will take before you can enter the workforce.
Bottom line: Associate degree programs are ideal for those who wish to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the school and its transfer rules, students with an associate degree can earn a bachelor’s degree in two years or less.
Medical Billing vs. Medical Coding: What’s the Difference?
Some programs go by the name of “medical billing” while others all themselves “medical coding.” There might be other names, such as “medical coding and insurance billing.” What’s the difference between billing and coding? Let’s take a look:
It’s important to
note that medical billers and medical coders serve two distinct
functions, but sometimes one person can do both. This is especially
true in smaller medical practices, where the patient roster is
smaller, the procedures performed are more limited and the billing or
coding work is done right there in the office, rather than sent out
to a third party.
What You’ll Learn: Medical Billing and Coding Online Courses
Medical billing and coding both require a very specific set of skills and knowledge; it’s something that must be taught through in-depth courses. Though these courses might go by different names, they all focus on the same important aspects of medical billing and coding. Here are some of the courses you can expect to encounter, as well as what skills and knowledge you will have when you complete them.
Medical Insurance 101: Before you can code procedures or file claims, you’ll need to understand how insurance works. This course focuses on the ins and outs of the medical insurance industry. Similar courses concentrate on different types of insurance or coverage, such as Medicaid, CHIP, managed care, military insurance, workers compensation and more.
Anatomy: Landmarks and Divisions: In order to properly code and bill, you must understand the diagnosis, procedures and the like – and that means having a firm understanding of how the human body works. This course will focus on providing that in-depth overview.
Medical Terminology: Healthcare has a unique language all its own, and understanding the terms will help you learn to code and bill for the services rendered. This course and those similar to it will target abbreviations, symbols, special terms, and short-hand terms that combine all of the above.
ICD-10-CM Coding: This will usually be divided up into several modules or courses on different aspects of the complicated ICD-10-CM coding. You’ll learn how to find and use the proper codes for symptoms, complications, diagnosis, abnormal findings and much, much more.
Medical Records: This course will provide an in-depth understanding of how medical records are created, how to understand them, what to look for when finding codes for billing, and how to read both handwritten notes and electronic health records. Similar courses might go more in-depth on electronic health records, including the different types of software you might encounter.
How Much Does Online MB&C School Cost?
The cost for attending a medical billing and coding program varies widely, with much of the differences attributed to the length of the program. Certificates and diplomas, especially those that take only a few months to earn, will likely have the lowest cost. Earning an associate degree tends to be the most expensive option, but it’s also the one that allows for the most career mobility. All that said, the type of school you wish to attend may also impact your cost. Community colleges usually have the most affordable price tags, while for-profit colleges and private institutes may be the biggest burden on the pocketbook. Let’s see the different ways these costs break down.
Finding Low Cost Online Medical Billing & Coding Programs
Remember that low cost or “affordable” can mean something different for everyone. It all depends on the type of payment that makes the most sense for you, as well as the type of program you want to pursue. It also depends on whether you qualify for financial aid or scholarships. Here are a few tips to help you find the most affordable program for you:
Tuition for the most affordable MB&C programs and courses can range between $500 and $1,000. This usually depends on the type of school, the type of program, and the end goal of the program or course. For example, Penn Foster Career School has a robust 10-month program for $799, which covers billing AND coding. Of course, those who choose an associate degree program can expect to pay the tuition rate set by the school to earn the two-year degree. When looking for the cheapest online medical billing and/or coding program, always make sure it has the accreditation you need to work toward certification as well as the recognition to make you a solid candidate in your chosen field.
Remember that tuition numbers aren’t necessarily what you will actually pay. Some programs may have a higher price tag, but more generous payment options. For example, Ashworth has zero-interest payment plans that may make sense for students on a month-to-month budget. Others might offer generous financial aid to those who qualify. As always, if you find an online MB&C program that fits your cost needs, vet it thoroughly for quality and accreditation.
How to Fund Your Online Medical Billing and Coding Program
Finding the money for the medical billing and coding program might seem like a daunting task, but there are many options out there. Part of the magic of attending an accredited program is that you might be eligible for federal financial aid, including grants and subsidized loans. In some cases, grants will cover the majority of the cost. Scholarships are also an option; though general scholarships are the norm, some scholarships are reserved only for those who enter an allied health profession. There are even scholarships available through the school itself, often based on need or merit. To learn more about payment options, visit our page about online medical billing and coding schools with financial aid.
How Long Does an Online Medical Billing and Coding Program Take?
The short answer: It depends. The type of credential you seek will dictate the time it takes to complete a program. For instance, a certificate or diploma can take anywhere from a few weeks to a full year to complete, while an associate degree program lasts two years (possibly only 18 month with accelerated courses). Some accelerated medical and billing programs have a very strong, narrow focus and can take less than six months to complete. To get a more detailed look at how long programs last, as well as the courses taken during the program and what else to expect, check out the program profiles above.
The 4 Week Online Course for Medical Billing & Coding
Those who want to get into the workforce as fast as possible might look for an accelerated option; these programs condense the necessary information into a very short time-frame, usually a few months. An example is MedicalBillingCourse.com, where you could complete a medical billing certification course in as little as 3-5 weeks. The cost of that particular course is $699.95, with installment plans available. These very short programs teach the basics of what students need to know to move into the workforce as a medical biller, but they do not provide the knowledge necessary to become a medical coder.
you do choose to go with a low-cost and fast-paced option, remember
that it’s important to look at all aspects of the program. Vet it
carefully by looking at quality reviews from graduates, job placement
numbers, how well the program prepares you to sit for certification
examinations (assuming you intend to become certified!) and how the
skills and knowledge you earn during the program can help you advance
in your future career. And of course, accreditation is the most
important factor of all – it pays to attend an accredited school or
Does Accreditation Matter?
Accreditation is an incredibly important part of any higher education program. Accreditation essentially means a college or program has been closely examined by an independent body and found to meet the rigorous standards of a high-quality education. In other words, accreditation ensures that the credential you earn means something, and that your hard work doesn’t go to waste.
It also matters for a variety of other reasons. The biggest might be the question of financial aid – federal financial aid is usually only awarded to those who are enrolled in an accredited program. It’s not accredited? Then you usually pay out of pocket, which can be quite expensive. Another reason is keeping a good reputation. Many employers will only hire those who have graduated from an accredited school or program; anything less, and they will see the program as a “diploma mill” and assume you do not have the proper knowledge or skills to do the job.
The future is bright for medical billers and coders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a projected growth rate of 13% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Much of that growth can be attributed to a boom in healthcare, driven by an aging population, advanced technology that allows for more outpatient procedures, and the more common use of electronic health records. Those who are well-versed in different types of electronic health records can expect to have better job opportunities. Though most medical billers and coders will work in public or private hospitals, opportunities are also available in offices of physicians, outpatient clinics, administrative services or nursing homes. Depending upon the employer’s policies, some medical billing and coding technicians can work from home.
Those who start a career in medical billing and coding aren’t limited to staying in that position. There are many other career options that utilize health information technology, such as medical secretaries or medical transcriptionists. These positions allow medical billing and coding graduates to build upon their skills and knowledge to move into different parts of the medical field, and the work experience can hold them in good stead when they seek other positions, such as those in nursing or home health care.
Do I need to be certified as a medical biller and/or coder?
Technically, certification is not required to begin work as a medical biller or medical coder. However, certification is strongly recommended. Many employers will only hire those who have certification, so it makes you much more marketable. Besides that, it can provide a decent salary boost. To learn more, visit our full page on the importance and options available when it comes to medical billing and coding certification online.
How Much Do Medical Billers and Coders Make
According to the AAPC Annual Salary Survey (which includes all medical billers and coders who are members of the AAPC), the average income of a medical coder is $52,411 per year. Those who have no certification earned $45,035 per year, while those with at least one certification earned almost 15% more, at $51,477. Those who earned specialized certifications could earn over $64,000 per year.