To earn a medical coding and billing certification, people must be trained according to federal requirements to perform medical coding and billing services for healthcare providers, insurance companies and patients. MCB certification can be acquired through private, for-profit colleges, public community colleges, and some online programs; students can pursue a certificate or an associate’s degree. Medical coding and medical billing have different course requirements, but earning a certification takes about the same amount of time and costs about the same for each. Training costs range from $2,200 for an online certification course, to $5,000 for an associate’s degree at a public school, to as much as $25,000 for a private college education. Additional factors that affect the final cost of becoming MCB certified include the certification program’s length and tuition fees, optional exam study programs, and the cost of the certification exam.
Certificate and Degree Programs
The least expensive way to qualify for certification is to complete a certificate program at a trade school or online without earning a degree. However, some employers prefer billers and coders with a degree. Students can attend a community college or private school to earn a two-year associate’s degree and prepare for the certification exam. Many community colleges combine medical coding and billing specialities into a single professional program; some private schools offer separate programs for each field. In general, the longer the course of study, the more expensive it will be. However, Tal’Mal Chester, a certified professional coding instructor at the Prestige Professional Institute of Learning, says that the medical coding is one of the last good careers that does not require a degree.
Billers work as liaisons between insurance companies and patients, entering data and working with electronic claims forms, so they must understand both medical terminology and medical billing technology. Billers also learn how to operate within the insurance claim submission process and to comply with federal HIPAA patient privacy standards. Also, because billers often work directly with patients, they learn customer service and reception desk skills.
Medical coders are expected to have a more scientific background. Coders learn the basics of human physiology because they work with healthcare providers to classify illnesses and medical services. They also take pharmacology courses that teach specialty codes and terminology specific to pharmaceuticals, as well as classes that allow them to accurately classify the services patients receive from their doctors and nurses. Coders must also learn how to use popular medical health record software.
Each program charges different fees, but, in general, private, for-profit colleges and universities are more expensive than community colleges. In-state residents pay lower tuition and fees than out-of-state students. For example, Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, has a three-semester-long medical coding and billing certificate program that costs residents $2,756; out-of-state students pay $10,424. The average tuition for similar certification programs at community colleges around the U.S. is $5,000 to $6,000 for residents. Private schools cost far more, ranging from $12,000 to $16,000 or more for two-year certification programs.
Chester recommends becoming cross-certified from the two nationally recognized billing and coding certification bodies: the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
The AAPC’s Certified Professional Coder (CPC) exam is rigorous, with 24 sections that take most students about six hours to complete. The CPC test costs $260 for members of the AAPC, $300 for non-members. Most students take it after having two years of professional experience, which is required for certification. After prospective medical billers and coders pass the CPC exam, they must also join the AAPC (if they haven’t done so already to get the member discounts). A student membership costs $110, while a full individual membership costs $160.
AHIMA offers three coding certifications: the Certified Coding Associate (CCA), the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS), and the Certified Coding Specialist-Physician-based (CCS-P); each one demonstrates a different level of mastery. The CCA exam is two hours long and costs $299. The CCS and CCS-P exams each take four hours to complete and cost $299. Students who are members of AHIMA get at least a $100 discount on each exam. Coders may also want to join AHIMA, which costs from $49 for students to $199 for a premier membership.
Optional Study Aids
The cost of becoming certified increases for students who choose to take certification study courses or purchase guides. The AAPC offers an online study guide, which includes the study guide book, practice exams and the CPC exam; the bundle costs $600 for members, $1,000 for non-members. The official AAPC study guide costs $120 alone, and a workbook costs $45. AHIMA also offers study guides, ranging from free for premier members to $75 for non-members. Some third-party websites offer free practice exams.