What is the Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding?

As the field of healthcare continues to expand in the United States, so too do employment opportunities for professionals trained in health information technology. These healthcare employees may not sit bedside caring for a patients’ physical needs, but they still play an invaluable role in the industry as they ensure that medical records and bills are complete and accurate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for health information specialists such as medical billers and coders are currently growing much faster than average, so it’s not surprising that there’s a good amount of interest in the field. For those who do hope to take advantage of this sector’s boon, a common question is: “What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?” Before we get to this inquiry, though, let’s address another, more basic one: “What is medical billing and coding?”

What Is Medical Billing and Coding?

“Medical billing and coding” has become a collective term in the health information field that encompasses many different academic degrees, occupational roles, and health services professionals. Because it’s used colloquially with such frequency, it’s important for students interested in this subfield of health information technology to nail down exactly what is medical billing and coding and to discern the various differences between medical billing and coding. If you happen to be one of these prospective health information students, then you’re in luck. In this article, we will address some important topics that will help you decide your best course of action for earning credentials and job titles in this field. Specifically, we’ll tackle critical issues like:

  • Just Exactly What Is Medical Billing and Coding?
  • The Distinct Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding
  • Medical Billing and Coding Job Descriptions
  • Medical Billing vs Medical Coding Salary
  • Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing: Job Outlook
  • Education and Training Requirements for Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing
  • Different Qualities and Skills Necessary for Medical Coding and Billing
  • Frequently-Asked Questions About Medical Billing/Coding

Let’s start at the top and go down the line. First, though, we’ll provide a little more information about these two popular health information technology occupations.

More Information About Medical Billing and Coding

If you’re asking yourself, “What is medical billing and coding?”, then you’ve already demonstrated the first sign of a successful health information technology professional—an interest in the field! Before you can become a medical coder, medical biller, or even medical transcriptionist, though, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can about your potential career path.

First, the good news—right now, both healthcare and information technology are experiencing unprecedented growth. As you might expect, a subfield like health information technology that lies at the intersection of these burgeoning fields is a gold mine of opportunity in terms of job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirms that employment rates for medical records and health information specialists are currently growing much faster than average.

In addition to job outlook predictions, salary potential is also top of mind for students interested in obtaining a position in the health information technology field. However, this particular issue is a little more difficult to pin down. That’s because annual wages for medical records and health information specialists can vary so widely. To try to better understand earnings patterns for these professionals, we consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Here’s what we learned:

  • The median annual wage for medical records and health information specialists is $44,090.
  • Pay can vary between <$28,800 and >$73,370—a gap of more than $44,500 a year!
  • Health information professionals in management roles tended to earn more (i.e., $50,010 on average).
  • Health information specialists who worked in hospitals earned more on average than those who worked for doctors’ offices (i.e., $46,880 compared to $39,190 respectively).

Of course, as is the case with all professions, salaries for medical coding and billing professionals will vary based on factors like location and years of experience.

What is the Difference Between Medical Billing and Medical Coding?

Alas, the big question: What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?” The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. That’s because there are actually quite a few differences between medical billing and medical coding, some of which we will address later in the article. For now, we’ll discuss the primary difference between these two closely related job titles: While a medical coder inputs specialized codes representing medical diagnoses, treatments, and procedures, medical billers decipher these codes to create medical bills to send to patients and insurance companies.

Medical Billing and Coding Job Description

Since they don’t perform the exact same tasks, it should come as no surprise that medical billing and coding job descriptions can be quite different. Day-to-day duties for these health information specialists vary widely and require distinct skill sets.

Medical coding, for example, requires knowledge of a highly specialized medical coding system. Coders must know specific codes for different types of medical conditions, tests, and treatments, for example. Learning the universally accepted system for medical coding is a bit like learning a foreign language. Professional medical coders must also know how to use certain types of software used for storing medical information. A coder’s workday often consists of sitting in front of a computer inputting data from medical records and documents. They often work independently, and increasingly, medical coders are working remotely.

Conversely, a medical biller’s job begins where a medical coder’s leaves off. These health information professionals use the encoded data inputted by a medical coder to prepare medical bills for patients and insurance companies. Like other types of financial clerks, medical billers must collect and post payments and fees, record late payments, and handle any bill misunderstandings or errors. This requires calling patients and insurance companies for the purposes of collecting payment and reimbursements. Medical billers typically work in doctors’ offices or administrative offices within a hospital or other type of medical facility.

Medical Billing VS Medical Coding Salary

Just as the duties in medical coding and billing job descriptions are similar but not exact, the same is true for medical coding and medical billing salary details. According to reports released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical coders make more money per year on average than medical billers. While professional coders in the health care industry bring in just over $44,000 in mean annual wages, billers make approximately $4,500 less each year, on average. It isn’t a huge discrepancy, but it’s a factor worth considering if you’re seriously contemplating medical billing vs medical coding as an occupation.

Of course, when considering salary projections for any type of job, you’ll want to think about the big picture. Even within very specific occupational categories, individual pay can vary significantly. For instance, if you have little experience in the field when hired on, you likely won’t start out making as much as your coworkers who have held the same position for years. Moreover, salaries are higher for certain jobs depending on geographical location. This can be due to a higher demand for specific kinds of professionals in the area, or due to the cost of living in a particular state, for instance.

Another Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding: Job Outlook

One of the main differences you should be aware of if you’re considering a career in health information technology is the job outlook for medical coding versus medical billing. That’s because projections regarding employment opportunities for these types of professionals can impact your ability to find a job once you’ve completed your education and training in the field. Right now, it seems as if medical coders have the upper hand when it comes to employment prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), coders fall under the umbrella of medical records and health information specialists, a job category that is currently seeing a lot of growth. Specifically, jobs for these types of professionals are expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029. Along with health information technicians and cancer registrars, medical coders are expected to enjoy nearly 30,000 new job openings by the end of the decade.

On the other hand, medical billers won’t have nearly as much job security upon graduation from a health information technology or training program. The BLS reports growth for billing and posting clerks like medical billers is currently slower than average and predicts the sector will only grow by 2% between 2019 and 2029. This growth will result in less than 10,000 new jobs for all billing and posting clerks across various industries, not just healthcare.

Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing: Education and Training Requirements

Though the education and training requirements for medical coders and medical billers are similar, they are not identical. While both professions require either a postsecondary degree or associate’s degree in medical coding/billing or health information technology, the licenses required for some positions may vary depending on the occupation.

For instance, medical coders are often required to hold professional certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Several different types of certifications are available, and the preferred license will vary depending on your employer as well as your specific role within a healthcare facility. Common medical coding certifications offered through the AAPC include:

  • Certified Professional Coder (CPC)
  • Certified Outpatient Coding (COC)
  • Certified Inpatient Coder (CIC)
  • Certified Risk Adjustment Coder (CRC)

Over a dozen other specialty coding certifications can also be obtained via the AAPC.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), another respected professional organization in the field, also offers certifications for medical coders, including the following credentials:

  • Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
  • Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
  • Certified Coding Specialist- Physician-Based (CCS-P)

Medical billers may also be required by their employers to hold professional certification. However, there are fewer opportunities for professional licensure in medical billing. The two common certifications in this sub-field include:

  • Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist (CMRS) certificate from the American Medical Billing Association (AMBA)
  • Certified Professional Biller (CPB) certificate from the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)

To obtain professional certifications in either medical coding or medical billing, you’ll need to take and pass a certification examination.

Other Necessary Qualities & Skills for Medical Coders Versus Medical Billers

As with any profession, there are certain qualities of medical coders and billers that can’t be taught in an academic program. These characteristics aren’t the same for each occupation, so they represent a primary difference between medical billing and coding.

When you look closely at a medical billing and coding job description, you can ascertain some of the key qualities and skills necessary for each occupation. For instance, medical coders are required to input data independently for hours at a time. This data must be accurate and reliable as errors can cost the hospital or healthcare facility both time and money. Performing the duties of a medical coder requires certain characteristics such as a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and attention to detail.

Conversely, the job of a medical biller requires a different skill set. These health information technology professionals spend a lot of time on the phone talking to patients and/or insurance company representatives. Much of their work is centered around discrepancies in bills or problems over insurance coverage for a specific medical treatment or procedure. Dealing with these issues requires strong communication skills and the ability to problem-solve. Medical billers must possess a calm temperament as well since they may have to deal with patients who are upset over their medical bills or their insurance company’s unwillingness to pay for necessary medical services.

While education and training requirements might not mark a huge difference between medical billing and coding, the soft skills necessary for each job do. This is certainly something to consider when deciding which role to take on within the health information technology industry.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Medical Coding Versus Medical Billing

Besides the primary question, which is—What is the difference between medical billing and medical coding?”, most prospective health information technology students have a lot more questions about the field. If this describes you, that’s good news! It means you’re doing your due diligence to ensure the precise subfield you pursue in this exciting industry is indeed the exact one for you. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the common questions students ask about medical coding versus medical billing.

Q: Which is harder—medical coding or medical billing?

A: The education and training requirements for both medical coding and billing are quite similar. In fact, many programs cover the same topics such as medical terminology, law and ethics in health information technology, and healthcare communication, for instance.

Q: Can I earn my degree in medical coding/medical billing online?

A: Yes. Associate’s degree programs in both medical coding and medical billing are available online. Many programs will prepare you to take on either role.

Q: Is a medical billing salary higher than the salary for medical coding?

A: No. On average, medical coders make slightly more per year than medical billers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Your exact pay may be more or less than the average wage for your occupation in medical coding or billing, though, based on factors like where you live and work as well as your prior experience in the field of health information technology.

Q: Are jobs in medical coding and medical billing in demand?

A: Yes. While both career paths are experiencing growth, the occupation of medical coding is expanding faster than average and will provide more opportunities for prospective health information technology professionals.

Q: Are professional certifications required for both medical coding and billing?

A: It depends. Whether you pursue the occupation of a professional medical coder or biller, your employer will determine whether a professional certification or license is necessary.

Conclusion

Both medical coding and medical billing are necessary and rewarding careers within the promising field of health information technology. While one is not superior to the other, there are advantages to be considered when deciding between medical coding versus medical billing as a job title. In addition to typical factors like salary, job prospects, and training requirements, you’ll also want to carefully consider the differences in medical billing and coding job descriptions because these will dictate your daily responsibilities and tasks as a professional coder or biller. After all, at the end of the day, whether you enjoy what you do may very well be the most important factor of all.

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Bambi Majumdar
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Melissa Anderson
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Julie McCaulley
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