June 28, 2012 by Staff Writers

Do I Need a Course or Coding Certification?

Queston: I need to get a degree for medical billing online. Which online course is the best and cheapest route to go? I have been doing medical billing and coding for 7 years now without a degree, but I will never get the money I desire without the degree.

I have a question for you — do you possess any type of coding certification from either the AAPC or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)? If you do not, I strongly suggest that you obtain this first, even before you earn a degree, as it will give you the credentials to get you started on your path. Obtaining credentials through either affiliation will help you earn the salary you desire.

Depending on the type of medical billing and coding career path you choose, there are two governing bodies that you can choose from. AHIMA offers degree programs and certificates with a primary focus on facility coding/billing and health information management. Or you can choose the AAPC, which offers certificate programs with a primary focus on professional services, inpatient/outpatient/office-based coding and billing.

AHIMA Certification

The base AHIMA certification is called the Certified Coding Associate (CCA), and in order to sit for the exam, you need a high school diploma or GED. AHIMA does not require specific training to sit for this exam, but it is strongly recommended, as would be for any of these exams. The base training recommended to sit for this exam should include some, if not all, of the following:

  • Minimum six months on-the-job coding experience
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • ICD-9 and CPT-4 codes

Since you would be sitting for a certification and not attending a program, as an AHIMA member, it would cost you $199 and as a non-member, $299. You can take the courses recommended above at any AHIMA-approved coding program and the cost will likely run you anywhere from $1,000 up to $3,000, depending on the length of the course.

AHIMA offers many types of credentials, but only the RHIA credential requires completion of a bachelor’s degree in health information management (HIM). Just sitting for the RHIA exam requires an applicant to have a bachelor’s in an approved HIM program. The cost to attend a four-year college, which will be primarily via traditional classroom setting, will vary, but it can run upwards of 30K annually, based on my research of different health information management degrees. The cost to sit for the RHIA exam for a member is $229 and for a non-member, $299.

Scholarship Help from AHIMA

If you are interested in obtaining a four-year degree, AHIMA offers a scholarship program that gives out $90K annually in HIM merit scholarships to those in undergraduate programs who are pursuing a degree in either health information administration or health information technology.

Additionally, if you join AHIMA as a student, you only pay $35 for the year and you will qualify for any state-level scholarships offered by your component state association. The majority of colleges and universities now are able to offer students federal aid dollars derived from ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) legislation, which assists those students who wish to train for a career in HIM or health informatics programs. Simply contact the program/school you wish to attend and ask about ARRA aid dollars available for financial aid.

We now know that AHIMA offers several different types of programs including degree programs, so let’s take a look at what the AAPC has to offer as far as its online programs. The AAPC has several different types of professional certifications, including some adjunct specialty certifications.

AAPC Certification

First up is the core coding credential considered to be the gold standard in coding — the CPC. The AAPC offers several ways to achieve certification and you can choose to “bundle” courses, which offers significant cost savings, or you can go module by module. If you choose the “bundle” mode, you will receive the CPC Preparation Course, which will instruct the student and arm them with the core coding skills required in the outpatient physician setting, as well as prepare a student to sit for the CPC exam.

This bundle also includes the CPC Online Practice Exam Bundle, which consists of three simulated exams, composed of 50 questions each and allows the student to evaluate their individual readiness prior to sitting for the exam. Each student who purchases this bundle is allowed multiple attempts at the practice exams for up to a year from the date of purchase.

Lastly, students are allowed to sit for the actual CPC Exam, which has 150 questions and tests the student’s knowledge on the bundled materials and courses that they have been studying from. Students have one year from the purchase date to sit for the exam and upon passing, will receive either CPC-A status or CPC, depending on their level of work experience prior to the exam. Approximately 82% of students who purchase and complete this bundle pass the CPC exam, with roughly 90% passing on the first time they sit for it.

The CPC Preparation Course is designed to be completed within four months or less and costs to members is $1,395 (non-members $1,934) with a payment plan offering. If you choose to go module by module, you will not be able to take advantage of all the cost savings as the bundled package offers, but if you become an AAPC member, you will be able to take advantage of some cost savings. If you decide to go module by module, it will cost you an average of $2,800 depending on the modules you choose.

If you wish to compare the salaries of what a certified billing and coding professional makes to that of someone who is not certified, please click on the AAPC’s link here which shows you that the a certified coder earns about 17% more than a non-credentialed coder.

AHIMA and the AAPC are both nationally and internationally recognized and choosing a career in either or both is an excellent choice. It is important to remember that on average, students who pursue either an associate or bachelor’s degrees generally earn larger salaries over their lifetimes versus someone who obtains a certification only. Pursuing a degree is always a good choice, if you have the ability and lifestyle that will allow you to do so and investing in your future is always a good investment.

Remember that there are many ways that one can afford going to college and financial aid is available to those who qualify. A great resource for students to utilize to compare schools and costs for online degree programs in medical billing and coding can be found on our website here. Once on the website, click on the “Compare Schools” tool.

Happy Coding!

Holly

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