Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding

Nov 24, 2021

What is a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree?

Medical billing and coding is a vital part of healthcare administration. These professionals are often responsible for taking accurate records, maintaining patient confidentiality, and handling insurance communications. Students who undertake an associate degree in medical billing and coding can prepare themselves to enter this essential workforce.

Most associate degrees in medical billing and coding are either an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Medical Billing and Coding. An associate of science is typically more suited for students who want to transfer to a bachelor's degree program, while an associate of applied science is tailored for students who want to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. That said, both types of programs prepare graduates for careers in the field.

Students have the opportunity to learn a variety of skills in this degree program. For example, many schools focus on sharpening communication skills and helping students memorize important medical terminology. Those who successfully complete this degree may also be better prepared to earn their certification in medical billing and coding, which may be necessary for some job opportunities.

Why Should I Get a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree?

For students who are interested in medical billing and coding, there are several advantages to choosing an associate degree. One of these is the relative accessibility of the programs. Students often only need a high school diploma or equivalent G.E.D. to qualify. Practical experience may be helpful for admissions, but it's not always necessary. Thus, inexperienced students can more easily start their educational journey.

On the same note, associate degrees can be a very flexible option. Students may be able to attend part-time, online or in a hybrid format. For those who need to work or are otherwise busy during the day, this can provide an opportunity to earn a degree without interfering with their day-to-day lives. The typical two-year length may also be attractive to those who want to launch their careers quickly.

Finally, depending on the job, an associate degree in medical billing and coding can be a requirement. If it's not, it can provide graduates with an advantage to gaining employment over those with a high school diploma.

How to Choose a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Program

Students will find a wide range of medical billing and coding associate degree programs available to them. However, it can be difficult to choose between several high-quality programs. Students may thus want to consider a few elements before committing to a school.

For example, they may want to check the graduate outcomes for the programs. Different medical billing and coding jobs offer different salaries. Students may want to check in on how many graduates go on to earn good jobs in this field. Schools often advertise this or will offer this information when asked. High employment rates can be a good indicator of a strong program and a robust career services center.

Another consideration may be accessibility. Medical billing and coding is a largely practical field of study. Thus, it may be easier than other courses of study to complete online or in a part-time capacity. Choosing a school that can offer a quality education outside of a traditional classroom or schedule can be vital. Students who have unique family or career needs may thus want to figure out how flexible a given program is.

Faculty experience is also critical. Students may want to check on the backgrounds of the professors who will be teaching them. What degrees do they hold? How long have they worked in the field?

Application and Admissions for a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree Programs

Students who are interested in medical billing and coding associate degrees will likely apply to several schools. Fortunately, while the exact application process will differ between institutions, there are a few requirements that most students can reasonably expect to include.

Admissions to associate degree programs are typically not rigorous. Some programs have a 100% admissions policy, meaning anyone who applies and pays tuition is accepted. Most schools will require students to hold a high school diploma or equivalent G.E.D. and some may require a minimum GPA (such as 2.0 or 2.5) to be accepted. Students may be required to submit transcripts to verify this.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree?

Associate degrees in medical billing and coding typically require the completion of around 60 credits. Students who undertake these on a full-time schedule can usually expect to complete their degree within two years. Additionally, some programs offer accelerated courses of study that can help students complete a degree in a shortened period of around 18 to 20 months. Students who prefer a part-time schedule will require more time to graduate.

How Much Does a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree Cost?

Some institutions use a per-credit charge system while others may charge per semester or one flat fee for the entire program. However, there is a certain range that students may want to consider when thinking about their financial resources: associate degrees in medical billing and coding may range from $9,000 to $30,000 for the whole program. Additionally, students may also need to pay related fees such as those for technical equipment, student activities, or registration costs. Moreover, there may be lower tuition rates available for students who attend in-state or in-district schools. Keep in mind that this is before financial aid, which can cut these costs significantly. We will cover financial aid in more detail below.

Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree Coursework

There are several classes that students may take during a medical billing and coding associate degree. Some of these may include:

  • Medical terminology, where students can learn about the specific wording to effectively communicate healthcare events.
  • Record maintenance, where students have the opportunity to learn best practices for organizing and protecting confidential records.
  • Advanced coding, where students can learn how to efficiently and accurately record essential medical information.

However, there is a wide range of other potential coding courses as well. These include workplace math, diagnostic coding, computerized medical billing, human anatomy and more. Students are encouraged to analyze their school's curriculum during the application phase.

How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Medical Billing and Coding?

There are several different possible career paths for those with an associate degree in medical billing as coding. These are further variables based on elements such as experience and location. As such, it can be difficult to provide an accurate range of possible income. However, information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can provide some guidance.

For example, one popular career option after earning this degree is to become a medical record and health information specialist. The BLS estimates that these professionals earned a median pay of $45,240 per year as of 2020. However, students with a medical billing and coding associate degree may also be interested in continuing their education to a bachelor's degree. This may make them eligible to become a medical and health services manager. As of 2020, the BLS reports that these professionals earn a median pay of $104,280 per year.

Begin a Career as a Medical Record and Health Information Specialist

Medical record and health information specialists are professionals who organize, manage, and record health information data. This may include individual patient records or more big-picture information of the entire health institution. They often work in conjunction with other professionals in a business setting. For this reason, students who are interested in office administration and medical coding classes may want to consider this career path.

As of 2020, there were an estimated 416,400 of these jobs in the United States. The job outlook is 9% between 2020 and 2030, which is about average. Salaries will depend on exactly which kind of specialty the professional chooses. For example, the BLS estimates that medical registrars earned a median annual wage of $51,840 while health technologists earned a median annual wage of $44,090.

Begin a Career as a Medical Transcriptionist

Students who complete an associate degree in medical billing and coding may want to consider becoming a medical transcriptionist. A medical transcriptionist is a professional who listens to voice recordings from healthcare workers and converts them to written documents. This vital job can help doctors work more quickly while retaining high-quality medical records. An associate degree is not always required for this job. However, as it provides information about topics such as medical terminology and transcription skills, students may find that it's a useful introduction to the career.

The BLS estimated in May 2020 that medical transcriptionists earn a median annual wage of $35,270. Employment in this field is expected to decline 7 percent between 2020 and 2030. However, the aging workforce in these positions means that there are also expected to be 6,600 job openings each year over the decade.

Certifications & Licensure for Medical Billing and Coding

Students who enter the medical billing field may want to consider becoming a certified coding specialist. Certification is the process through which a professional demonstrates their skills to a respected organization. They may then be recognized by this group, which can in turn act as official proof of their abilities. Thus it can be helpful in gaining employment or earning promotions.

Students in the medical billing field can become certified through the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), which offers the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) credential. Two other important certifications in the field include the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) and the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT).

Accreditation for a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree Programs

Accreditation is the process through which a school proves the quality of its educational programs. They are assessed by regional groups that have themselves been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the Department of Education, or both. Accreditation can be an effective way to demonstrate the value of an education, and as such, students may want to consider a school's accreditation status before applying. Some approved accrediting bodies include the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

Transfer Options After Completing a Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree

Students who complete an associate degree in medical billing and coding may be curious about possible next steps. Fortunately, many associate programs will transfer credits to related bachelor's degrees. That way, students don't have to retake any classes and can instead continue on to the next phase of their education.

However, there are few institutions that offer a bachelor's degree in medical billing and coding specifically. Students may instead need to broaden their educational horizons. For example, a student who holds an associate degree in medical billing and coding may want to consider a bachelor's degree in health services or healthcare management. These degrees may help them build on existing skills from the initial degree. Additionally, the expanded education may also open up new career opportunities.

What Are Other Medical Billing and Coding Degree Options?

Much like with careers such as insurance coders, students may find that pursuing further medical billing education can improve their employment odds. Medical billing and coding is a similar specialty area. As such, it might not always appear with that exact wording at every degree level. Nevertheless, students can pursue educational opportunities that build on similar skills such as office organization and an understanding of medical terminology. Students are encouraged to consider all of their potential degree opportunities before committing to a program.

Bachelor's Degrees in Medical Billing and Coding

There are few bachelor's degrees available for medical billing and coding specifically. However, closely related fields such as health services and medical administration may be logical progressions for those who hold an associate degree in medical billing and coding. Bachelor's degrees usually require the completion of around 120 credits over about four years of full-time education. These are mostly focused on healthcare administration factors. However, they will also include unrelated general education courses for a well-rounded education.

Master's Degrees in Medical Billing and Coding

Students may also want to consider obtaining a master's degree in this field. The title of one of the most similar degrees to medical billing and coding is healthcare administration. Students in a master's program for healthcare administration learn advanced techniques for organizing and leading office-based work in medical settings. These programs typically last around 36 credits, which can usually be completed in around 1.5 years of full-time attendance. Students may also complete a solo research project to demonstrate their independent learning.

Doctoral Degrees in Medical Billing and Coding

Students who are interested in pursuing the concepts behind medical billing and coding may want to consider a doctoral degree in the closely aligned field of healthcare administration. These programs offer in-depth classes on a wide range of medical management topics; they're typically designed for people who want to teach or do advanced research in the field. Students have the opportunity to become leading experts in this topic. This is partially thanks to the dissertation. A dissertation is a lengthy independent research project. Students who produce these can demonstrate their mastery of the field as well as their ability to critically analyze and assess issues important to its success.

Certificate Programs in Medical Billing and Coding

Students may want to consider a certificate program in addition to their associate degree in medical billing and coding. Certificate programs are non-degree awarding educational courses. They typically focus on a specific area of the field and serve to demonstrate this specific expertise to potential employers. For example, those hoping to work specifically in insurance-based medical coding may want to pursue a certificate program in this area.

It's worth noting the difference between a certificate program and certification. A certificate program is similar to an associate program but is briefer, more focused, and doesn't award a degree. By contrast, certification is a professional credential that speaks to the holder's expertise in the field.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degrees

Those who are interested in financial support during their associate degree in medical billing and coding may want to consider the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This program can offer students monetary aid through such avenues as scholarships, loans, or work-study opportunities. Keep in mind that students must be attending an accredited institution to qualify for this support.

In addition to the FAFSA, students might also want to consider scholarship opportunities that are specific to their course of study. While there are few scholarships for medical billing specifically, students may want to consider general scholarships or scholarships in the broader field of healthcare administration. One example of this is the Mr. Darwin Eugene Winfield scholarship. This award is available to students in Texas State's School of Health. They must be pursuing an undergraduate degree with the intention to enter the field of health administration. They must also be able to demonstrate financial need.

One great place to look for scholarships is the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop Scholarship Tool.

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