What Can I Do With an Associates in Medical Coding and Billing?

Medical billing and coding is a popular subfield of the growing health information technology field. An entry-level credential in this industry that marries the in-demand occupational fields of big data and healthcare can open numerous doors of opportunity, all of which lead to secure and respectable careers. Good news, right? Even better, it’s possible to earn a medical billing and coding associate degree online, so breaking into this field doesn’t even require a morning commute!  In this article, we’ll provide a sample of the many hats one can wear with a medical billing and coding associate degree (online or otherwise). We’ll also explore how this credential can jumpstart an even more lucrative career in the industry—that is, the occupation of a health information manager.

Medical Coder

Perhaps the most obvious career choice for accredited medical billing and coding schools graduates is that of a medical coder. Medical coders are specific types of medical records and health information specialists who are responsible for assigning the correct medical codes for diagnostic and treatment procedures a patient receives from a medical facility. These healthcare technology professionals ensure that patients and insurance companies receive accurate bills that reflect the actual health care services administered by a doctor or other medical professional.

Whether applicants need a medical coding degree vs. certificate will be up to the individual employer. However, an increasing number of hospitals and medical facilities require that their medical coders hold a two-year technical degree, such as an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding. Since distance learning poses such a convenient pathway towards such a credential, many prospective medical coders choose to earn their associate degree in medical coding and billing online.

Moreover, a medical billing and coding associate degree salary may end up being higher than what a certificate or diploma will earn you in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), annual wages for medical records and health information specialists can vary from just $28,800 to over $73,000. Much of this discrepancy in pay can be attributed to differences in education and experience amongst professional medical coders.

While some health information technology employers may require a medical billing and coding degree for employment as a medical coder, almost all require a professional certification such as the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) license available from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). To earn either certificate, you’ll be required to pass an exam successfully. Most medical billing and coding associate degree online programs include coursework to help you earn a passing score on these licensing tests.

Medical Biller

While they’re often confused, the jobs of a medical biller versus a medical coder are actually quite distinct. While a medical coder inputs codes corresponding with certain medical procedures and diagnoses, a medical biller uses this inputted data to send bills to patients and their insurance companies. Medical billers are also responsible for acting as a liaison between insurance companies and patients. They manage complex billing issues such as covered/noncovered expenses, preexisting conditions, and approvals/denials.

In addition to these variances in job duties, there are other key differences between the sub-fields of medical coding and medical billing. Of particular note is the difference in job outlook. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a faster-than-average growth rate for medical coders, the same is not true for the occupation of medical billing. In fact, the Bureau reports a minuscule growth projection of just 2 percent during the decade between 2019 and 2029. If you’re looking for job security, medical coding may be your best bet.

Still, entry-level requirements for jobs in both medical billing and coding are similar. For both, you’ll need either a certificate/diploma in the field or a two-year degree, usually an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding. Professional certification is also a standard requirement for employment in both medical billing and coding, though the specific licenses may vary. The Certified Professional Biller (CPB) certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) for medical billing is the preferred credential.

Pay for these two entry-level roles in health information technology is also fairly comparable. According to the BLS, the median salary for medical records and health information specialists (including medical coders) is $44,090. Alternatively, the Bureau reports the average annual pay for billing and posting clerks (including medical billers) to be slightly less at $39,590.

Cancer Registrar

Another job title in the field of health information technology that associate’s degree-holders can pursue after graduation from one of the nation’s many medical billing and coding schools is that of cancer registrar. Cancer registrars are health information technology specialists trained to input data into the national cancer registry—a database of cancer patients in the United States. This registry helps doctors and medical researchers study cancer and attempt to find better treatment and discover a cure for the disease.

While jobs for all health information specialists are currently in high demand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a considerable increase in employment opportunities for cancer registrars. That’s because the large baby boomer population is aging, and their risk for diseases such as cancer increases as they get older.

As far as pay is concerned, it seems cancer registrars may make slightly more on average than medical coders or medical billers. Although the BLS groups salary information for cancer registrars in with all medical billing and coding associate degree salary data, PayScale specifically reports the average base salary for cancer registrars to be $46,715.

To become a cancer registrar, you’ll need a two-year degree in health information technology, such as an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical coding and billing. To increase your chances of being hired on as a cancer registrar, look for programs with curriculum concentrations or specializations in cancer information management. Additionally, you’ll need to successfully pass the exam to obtain professional certification from the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA).

Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)

One of the more prestigious job titles one can earn with a medical billing and coding degree is the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) title. Compared to other medical billers and coders, an RHIT takes on more of a supervisory role in health information technology. Instead of simply inputting data into a specialized medical database, a registered health information technician is also responsible for making sure records are complete and accurate, which could require conferring with other health information specialists or medical staff such as nurses and doctors. Depending on their specific roles within the healthcare facility where they work, RHITs may also be tasked with analyzing health information to create reports on patient outcomes or hospital costs.

According to PayScale, registered health information technicians are some of the highest-paid professionals in their field, with a median annual salary of approximately $56,000 per year. Not all employees with this title make the same amount, though. It’s important to keep in mind that individual salaries may vary significantly based on factors like geographical location and years of experience, for example.

To become a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT), you’ll need an associate’s degree credential such as an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding or, more commonly, an Associate in Health Information Technology (HIT). Many employers prefer that applicants graduate from those medical billing and coding schools accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). Additionally, candidates are often required to hold professional certification from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). This license can be obtained by sitting for the Registered Health Information Technician Exam (RHIT). For prospective RHITs, an advantage of pursuing a two-year degree in Health Information Technology instead of an associate’s in medical billing and coding degree is that these former programs usually provide specific preparation for the RHIT examination, such as a review course before testing day, for instance.

Medical Billing Manager

Another management role one can pursue with an associate’s in medical coding and billing is the role of a medical billing manager. These administrative professionals in the healthcare information technology field are responsible for overseeing medical billers and coders in a hospital or other large medical facility. Medical billing managers must have in-depth knowledge of medical coding and billing as well as leadership and management skills. They must be able to check the work of the medical billers and coders on their teams while also managing staff efficiently.

Not all employers of medical billing managers will consider candidates with a two-year degree such as the Associate of Applied science degree in medical billing and coding; some will prefer a credential in health information management instead. Moreover, most healthcare facilities will look at an applicant’s experience in the field and hire a candidate who has worked with healthcare information the longest. You’ll want to have at least a year of experience working in medical billing or coding (preferably more) before applying for a management position.

The pay associated with medical billing manager jobs rivals a registered health information technician (RHIT). PayScale reports that these types of managers make roughly $55,500 per year on average.

Medical Transcriptionist

Though they may be overqualified for the job, some healthcare information specialists who hold degrees from medical billing and coding schools may find work as medical transcriptionists. Medical transcriptionists are entry-level professionals trained to transcribe dictations made by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. They must have specialized knowledge in medical terminology, but knowledge of medical coding is not usually required.

A two-year credential, including the Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding, may be overkill for the role of a medical transcriptionist, but that doesn’t mean employers will dismiss candidates with this credential. While such a degree could boost your chances of getting the job, most medical transcriptionists hold a one-year, non-degree credential such as a professional certificate or diploma.

Since jobs for medical transcriptionists don’t technically require an associate’s degree, you might not be surprised to learn that they’re some of the lower-paying occupations for health information professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for medical transcriptionists is just over $35,000 per year.

Patient Information Coordinator

Your two-year medical billing and coding degree could also qualify you for a job as a patient information coordinator. This lesser-known role in healthcare information technology is similar to medical coding and billing but focuses more on patient-centric data such as symptoms, medical tests, and diagnoses. Since these healthcare professionals must deal with requests for access to patient records, they must be extremely knowledgeable about laws governing health information, both at the local and national levels. Patient information coordinators may work on a team consisting of other health information technology professionals, including medical billers and coders.

In terms of salary, patient information coordinators make less than medical coders/billers but more than medical transcriptionists. According to Zip Recruiter, the nationwide average is just under $39,000 per year.

Investing in an Associate Degree in Medical Coding and Billing Online

As you perused these available jobs for associates in medical billing and coding degrees, you probably noticed that they’re not the highest-paying occupations in the medical field. This realization can bring on concerns about doling out money for tuition. After all, there’s the return on investment to consider! Fortunately, many accredited medical billing and coding schools online with financial aid options, including scholarships and grants that don’t have to be paid back. These programs make the notion of earning a two-year degree in health information technology a practical one for many students with a dream of entering the field. With the advantages of both affordability and convenience, it’s hard to deny the appeal of pursuing a medical billing and coding associate degree online.

A Springboard to a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Information

When deciding whether a medical billing and coding degree is worth the investment, consider that it can be a stepping stone toward an even more valuable credential—a bachelor’s degree in health information technology/management. Often, the credits you earn in a medical billing and coding associate degree online can transfer to a four-year degree plan, shortening your time to completion and cutting tuition costs as well.

With an undergraduate degree in health information, such as the Bachelor of Health Information Management, you’ll earn more than you would with just an associate’s credential. PayScale reports the average base salary for professionals with this degree to be approximately $68,000 per year. According to BLS reports, that’s nearly $25,000 more annually than what you’d make with a two-year degree. Such a salary boost makes your return-on-investment much higher, especially if you consider the many available medical billing and coding schools online with financial aid opportunities.

Health Information Manager

With your associate’s in medical billing and coding in hand, you can go on to pursue the coveted credential of a bachelor’s degree in health information management. This credential will qualify you for the prestigious role of health information manager. These professionals play supervisory roles in the field of health information, providing critical oversight to the work of other health information technology professionals such as medical billers and coders and even registered health information technicians (RHITs). Health information managers must also keep patient information and other private medical data secure.

While a bachelor’s degree in health information management may qualify you for this position, many employers prefer other qualifications in addition to your undergraduate credential. For example, you may need some experience working in health information as a medical biller or coder. Candidates with professional certifications from respected industry organizations such as the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) may have better job prospects. In some cases, a master’s degree in health information management may be mandated or preferred.

Health information professionals who meet these qualifications will enjoy plenty of opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for medical and health services managers, including health information managers, are currently growing at a breakneck pace. Between 2019 and 2029, it’s expected that job openings will increase by 32%, adding over 133,000 new positions for qualified applicants.

Conclusion

It’s clear that graduating with a medical billing and coding degree can be a life-changing event with promising results for your future career in health information technology. Whether you enter the field after earning an Associate of Applied Science degree in medical billing and coding or use this as a launching point for your bachelor’s degree in health information management, you’re bound to have limitless possibilities in this high-tech and ever-expanding field of health care.

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Bambi Majumdar
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