What is a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree?
Insurance companies or healthcare providers usually employ medical billers and coders to process medical information by transferring it into codes. These professionals then convert these codes into bills or claims, send bills to insurance companies or patients, and process payments received.
An associate degree program in medical billing and coding provides practical coursework on topics such as medical code and records systems, billing processes, and medical terminology. Learners usually complete most coursework online; however, a required practicum or internship at an approved site near the student's home gives learners a helpful introduction to medical contexts and operations.
Ideal for individuals interested in gaining a foothold in the healthcare industry, this degree qualifies graduates for entry-level positions at clinics, hospitals, doctor's offices, insurance companies, or other medical facilities. Eventually, most graduates either obtain coding or billing jobs or advance in related positions. An associate degree can also provide an inexpensive and convenient beginning for those interested in earning a more advanced degree.
The BLS indicates that medical billers and coders made about $40,350 annually in 2018, and it projects that this field will grow 11% through 2028, over twice as fast as the national average.
Why Earn an Online Medical Billing and Coding Degree?
An online associate degree program in medical billing and coding provides graduates with numerous personal and professional benefits. For instance, degree-holders earn the necessary medical and technological expertise to prepare them for continued education or entry-level healthcare work.
- Medical Knowledge
Coursework on anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology provides students fundamental medical knowledge applicable to further healthcare study and practice.
- Technology Skills
By introducing coding systems and software, graduates possess a competitive edge in a rapidly technologizing industry.
- Expansion of Opportunities
Although graduates do not always obtain medical billing and coding jobs right away, many related healthcare positions (outlined further below) become available to them upon graduation.
- Transferable Credits
Some credits earned in accredited medical billing and coding associate degree programs are typically transferable toward a bachelor's degree in a related field.
- Qualification for Entry-Level Healthcare Positions
An associate degree qualifies graduates for a variety of entry-level jobs, such as those described further down this page.
Career and Salary Potential with an Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding
While earning a degree does not guarantee graduates a career or a high salary, an online associate degree in medical billing and coding creates several career possibilities. Graduates who enjoy working with clients directly may enjoy general administrative support careers as medical receptionists, secretaries, or records coordinators. Conversely, those who like to work independently may prefer specialized positions as medical coders, insurance claims clerks, billing clerks, medical records technicians, and others.
Median Annual Salary: $37,090
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 16%
|These secretaries work in healthcare facilities and attend to administrative tasks that keep medical offices running smoothly. Daily tasks include recording medical chart information, answering email and telephone calls, managing office mail, appointment scheduling, and billing. Medical secretaries typically hold an associate degree or some other form of training that familiarizes them with the healthcare system, medical terminology, and other necessary topics.|
|Insurance Claims and Policy Processing Clerk||
Median Annual Salary: $42,150
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 4%
|These professionals process insurance policies and claims information, and may work for insurance companies or for a healthcare provider's office. To obtain this position, one usually needs to complete a relevant certificate program or hold a related associate degree.|
|Medical Records and Health Information Technician||
Median Annual Salary: $40,350
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 13%
|Health information technicians work in medical offices where they collect and process medical records data. These professionals often need to know medical coding systems to translate medical data into formats necessary for billing. Meanwhile, these technicians also guard the security of medical information and ensure that it meets industry standards. An associate degree or a certificate can qualify candidates for this position.|
Median Annual Salary: $34,520
Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028): 0%
|Information clerks work at healthcare facilities and provide information to the public. They answer questions about healthcare facility operations, services, locations, and providers, and they may collect patient information and maintain medical records.|
Earning an Associate in Medical Billing and Coding Degree Online
Associate-level medical billing and coding programs usually require a relatively simple application process and a straightforward, practical curriculum. This degree provides general skills that are transferable to many industries, as well as those specifically required for medical billing and coding jobs. The distance learning option provides the added benefit of flexible, self-paced scheduling, which can shorten the typical two-year timeline for an associate degree.
Although many online associate programs do not require standardized test scores or letters of recommendation, most programs require a high school diploma or an equivalent credential — such as a GED. They may also require a minimum 3.0 GPA in math, science, or other relevant coursework.
As part of the application process, students need to contact previously attended schools and request that they send at least one official transcript to their prospective schools. Many schools provide this service for free or for a nominal fee. Prior accredited college or university coursework may transfer if the courses prove equivalent to those in the student's online medical billing and coding associate degree program.
Some medical billing and coding programs require learners to complete introductory biology and health courses before entering the program. Students may complete these prerequisites at online or local colleges, but they should first contact each school's admissions offices to verify that the credits will transfer when completed.
School application forms may also ask students to write short answer responses and/or a brief essay.
Basic Coding with ICD-9 and ICD-10
This course teaches students the primary general coding systems used in the healthcare system. Students learn specific codes for pathologies, illnesses, laboratory procedures, treatments, and other medical phenomena. This course develops the core of the medical coding and billing curriculum.
Students in this course learn to quickly analyze medical terminology by recognizing common medical terminology symbols, roots, prefixes, suffixes, abbreviations, spelling, and pronunciation. Knowledge of medical terminology prepares you to analyze and translate medical reports and records into codes for invoicing and billing.
Medical Billing and Reimbursement
This course prepares learners for healthcare facility business operations. Students may learn cash flow monitoring in addition to essential daily skills such as managing financial records, processing billing, collecting payment, and utilizing collections services when necessary. This course also covers insurance claim, payment, and denial processing.
Health Services Foundations
Students receive an overview of the American healthcare system's various branches and functions. The course provides a history of how politics and policies influence the development and operation of this system.
Health Information Management
This course explores the healthcare industry's legal and ethical standards, and it provides students with data management and computer skills for daily health information management tasks.
Average Online Degree Length
An online medical billing and coding associate degree program opens new career possibilities for graduates without incurring great expense or inconvenience. Online degrees are frequently cheaper than on-campus degrees, and they spare students commuting and other traditional campus-related expenses. Many online degree programs also boast asynchronous attendance options and/or flexible session scheduling — features which allow students to maintain their current jobs (and income) while pursuing their online degree from home.
Relatedly, online programs often allow students to move at their own pace. Most associate degree programs require students to complete 60-90 credits — about two years of full-time attendance during the traditional academic year. However, students with demanding work or family obligations can attend part time to complete their degree as their schedule permits.
Meanwhile, many accelerated programs offer five or more terms per year, enabling eager students to complete more courses per year and thereby reduce time-to-degree. If the program's tuition accrues per semester rather than per credit, students may save money with this approach. Students can also save time and money by finding online degrees that award credit for prior accredited college coursework or relevant work experience.
By fulfilling general education requirements and introductory courses that can count toward a bachelor's degree, an online associate degree program also provides an affordable gateway to continuing education in medical billing and coding or a related field.
Skills, Traits and Knowledge Gained
In addition to providing general knowledge of the healthcare system and specific knowledge of medical coding, billing, and payment processes, an online associate degree in medical billing and coding cultivates the following fundamental skills:
Students aspiring to a specific type of position or workplace context should seek programs that allow a corresponding specialization of knowledge and skills.
Accreditation for Medical Billing and Coding Associate Programs
Learners should carefully consider accreditation standards when choosing academic programs and institutions. Accreditation ensures that schools have passed rigorous evaluation by accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Many occupational schools hold national accreditation from organizations such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Depending on your career and continuing education aspirations, a nationally accredited program may be suitable; however, keep in mind that accreditation distinctions become particularly important for those who plan to continue their education beyond an associate degree. Academic programs tend to only recognize prerequisite degrees that the student earned from an equivalently accredited school. For instance, a nationally accredited school's associate degree may not count toward a bachelor's program at a regionally accredited college or university.
Therefore, when considering medical billing and coding online associate degree programs, give special consideration to regionally accredited schools. Institutions awarded this credential have demonstrated to regional accrediting agencies that they meet high academic standards. Additionally, possessing a degree from a regionally accredited school usually makes you more attractive to employers.
If possible, locate degrees that also bear programmatic accreditation. The Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) provide accreditation for medical billing and coding programs.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Medical coding and billing students and professionals often benefit from the ample resources provided by professional organizations. Often created by fellow practitioners and designed to advocate for and educate those in the profession, these organizations provide continuing education opportunities such as webinars, certificate programs, trainings, and many other modalities.
These organizations also publish and/or disseminate current, relevant research which guides the field's best practices. Professional organization websites often feature job boards, networking platforms, and news about upcoming conferences and other events.
The biggest healthcare business training and credentialing organization available, the AAPC features 28 business-related healthcare certifications on topics such as service coding, billing, clinical documentation, physician practice management, medical auditing, medical compliance, and instruction. In addition, AAPC provides salary surveys, online networking forums, conferences, local chapters, internship/externship programs, and many professional services.
AHIMA boasts over 100,000 health information professional members and 52 state affiliates. The organization supports its members and improves health record quality across the nation. AHIMA also offers credentialing programs and other continuing education, as well as a student center, a career center, and networking opportunities.
This credentialing association partners with schools to make its medical billing specialist credential (CMBS) accessible to medical billing and coding students. MAB also facilitates networking opportunities, career resources, local chapters, and weekend institutes. Members qualify for advertising, training, and professional development services discounts.
Next Steps: Continuing Your Education
If you wish to continue your education, advance your career, and make a higher salary, consider earning a bachelor's degree in a related field such as healthcare administration, business administration, or healthcare information management. Researching your options and planning ahead can bring a bachelor's degree within your reach before you know it. Read further to discover some of the options available.
Transferring to a Four-Year Degree Program
Healthcare information systems, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, and other core courses from your medical billing and coding associate degree curriculum offer great preparation for a four-year healthcare degree program. In fact, many such courses will transfer, provided that the schools and programs boast similar accreditation standards and the course content proves equivalent.
If you plan to transfer to a bachelor's program, you should also pay attention to any academic partnerships or transfer agreements that may exist between your current school and other schools. Those agreements can streamline maximum transfer of credits, thereby reducing both time-to-degree and tuition costs. Consulting with an academic advisor about these matters early on in your education can also help you make well-informed choices for your future.
Additional Degree Paths to Consider
Those online medical billing and coding associate degree graduates who enjoy improving business operations may pursue a four-year degree in business administration — perhaps with a healthcare track — or health administration. Others may prefer analyzing healthcare technology and information, making a bachelor's in health information management an appropriate degree choice.
- Business Administration (Healthcare Track): This degree path teaches students general business principles, as well as specific healthcare business principles. Students in these programs also learn healthcare law and ethics, as well as healthcare accounting, business, and economics.
- Health Information Management: A health information management (HIM) degree provides an in-depth understanding of how HIM professionals use information systems to produce and safeguard the privacy of electronic medical records. Students learn medical software and healthcare privacy laws.
- Healthcare Administration: This degree prepares its graduates to monitor and lead many aspects of healthcare facilities. Healthcare administration degrees feature coursework on human resources management, marketing, finance, and data-based decision-making. Healthcare administrators often conduct necessary negotiations with outside entities, play a role in information security, and oversee staff and patient treatment.