School Guide: Medical Coding and Billing Degree Programs

When you are looking for schools in medical billing and coding, there are many options available. You could either attend a certification training program and eventually get certified or attend a diploma in medical billing and coding and then pursue the career options available. If you are inclined towards a formal school degree program, there are associate, bachelors or masters degree programs to choose from.

This guide will provide an overview of the schools and degree programs and walk you through few criteria that are important to identify the program suited for your needs and also look at a few schools you might want to consider. If you are looking for information on certification training or diploma, please check the training guide.

Degree programs

Depending on you needs, you can choose an associate, bachelors or masters degree program in medical billing and coding. You earning potential as a medical biller or coder typically increases with your education level. But so does the cost, time and effort needed to get these degrees. Hence, finding what is best for you is important when choosing the program.

The naming convention for the degree programs vary by school with some calling it an Associate/Baccalaureate of Science and others an Associate/Baccalaureate of Applied Science and the degree could be called Health Information Technology (HIT) or Health Information Management (HIM) or Health Informatics. Let us look at the programs in detail and which one would be suitable for you as a medical billing or coding professional.

Associate

An associate degree program gives a solid educational foundation on general education courses such as  the arts, sciences, mathematics and english language in addition to medical coding and billing courses. The medical billing and coding courses typically include anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, medical finance and insurance, medical reimbursement systems, diagnostic and procedures coding and electronic medical billing.Check with your nearest community college for the associate degree programs available.

Most full-time students complete associate degrees in in two years while certificate and diploma programs require one year or less. Certificate and diploma medical billing and coding programs often do not include general education courses but offer a focused set of classes on medical billing and coding. When comparing the financial investment between all three programs, diploma and certificate programs are often less expensive than associate degree programs. Even though it is not a requirement, the employers often prefer candidates with some degree and knowledge of basic medical terms so that you can easily be trained on your new job, an associate degree is ideal from this perspective.

Bachelors

Medical billing and coding bachelor’s programs are typically called health information management or healthcare administration programs. These are four year programs with courses in coding, healthcare law, and healthcare data and enrollment management classes to prepare for leadership positions. Graduates can pursue careers in clinics, hospitals, insurance companies, and public and community health agencies. Successful completion of many bachelor programs also make you eligible to sit for the Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) certification exam for people in managerial roles in Health Information Management.

Masters

A master’s in healthcare management incorporates more in-depth studies than a medical billing and coding certificate. Most full-time students complete master’s programs in one year. Masters graduates can pursue a career as healthcare executives who lead teams in public health departments, clinics, hospitals, insurance firms, and physician practices.

What To Look For In A School

The ideal medical coding and billing program depends on many factors including your personal and professional aspirations. Selecting a degree program which best aligns with the amount of time you have to spend pursuing a degree as well as your financial situation is the often the best option for you as you gain the knowledge and experience needed to qualify as a medical billing and coding professional. Just like with any other school, there are a few things you’ll want to know before you start your search. Think and decide on what you want from the school and the program.

  • What would work best for you?
  • To be a full-time student? Or are you already working and need to find a part-time program to accommodate your schedule?
  • What is the outcome you’re looking for?
  • Would you like your program to lead you directly into a job?
  • Or are you already working and looking to improve to your skillset?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you will be better prepared to decide what is best for you. There are certain criteria that would help you select a school and program that worth your time and money.  Let us look at them one by one.

Accreditation

This is the absolute bottom line on whether or not you should even consider a program. If the program is not accredited, you risk putting hours and money into a certificate that your potential employer won’t accept. When a school is accredited, it means that an accreditation agency has verified that the school and/or specific program meets a certain set of educational standards.

An unaccredited school may also lack proper facilities or capabilities for giving the training. The schools may not have properly trained faculty or could be a for-profit school trying to make money giving fake promises and flashy advertisements to get students enrolled. So, always inquire about a school’s accreditation, especially if they don’t make it completely obvious.

You’ll want to look for at least one of two well known accrediting bodies for medical billing and coding education, Commission of Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) and American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). The accreditation will ensure that the school and program follow the guidelines and quality for the training provided thus ensuring that you acquire the skills needed for a job and do not lose your money by attending the program. CAHIIM has a directory of accredited medical billing and coding schools on their website that can help you to find the schools with accreditation near you.

Cost

This is pretty brass-tacks stuff, but always consider the cost of the program. The cost varies depending on the program and the school from anywhere from $3500 to $30000. While the number of years and quality of education increases with the cost, that could not be always the case. It may be beneficial to consider a public school or university than a private institution for lesser costs.

In the long run, a program will pay for itself if it is truly preparing you for your job. Make sure that the cost justifies your expectations of what you’ll get from the program and the salary that you would be paid. If those two things match, go ahead and do it!

Scholarships

Even if the cost seems high, most programs will have some sort of financial aid such as federal aid, loan, or scholarships. Financial aid can help you afford the medical coding and billing programs cost. Accredited degree programs in medical coding and billing will qualify students for federal student aid. Professional organizations also provide financial resources for medical coding and billing majors. The AHIMA Foundation sponsors over 50 Merit Scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 each summer. HIMSS Foundation is another non-profit organisation that provides scholarships to students from healthcare IT related programs.

In addition, the school that you are joining can provide scholarships for students based on different criteria. You may have to enquire with the school to know more about them and how to apply for them.

Career Services

Okay this is less cut-and-dry, but it’s one of the most vital parts of the process. Schools and programs aren’t just about showing up and getting the knowledge. They should also be a helpful as a stepping stone into a real job. Before enrolling, look into what sort of career-matching services the program or the school will provide you. Check if the program connects with any local employers for jobs. When talking to the faculty or administrators, ask how many graduates are successfully employed and if graduates transition from the program into jobs immediately.

Best Coding & Billing Schools

To help you get an idea of what a great HVAC program looks like I’ll break down 3 of the best HVAC schools in the US. If you’re lucky enough to live near these schools (or want to move), really consider these programs.

They offer some of the best hands-on classroom experiences and talented faculty. If these schools are too far, think of them as a template for how schools closer to home might fit your needs.

Indiana University Northwest(IUN) – Associate of Science is Health Information Technology

IUN offers a two year associate degree program for anyone new to the medical coding or billing which is a very long-standing and highly regarded program for over 40 years. The first year could be completed on part time basis and second year on full time basis. The program includes courses on Human Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Terminology, Health Record Law, Coding and Classification Systems and Reimbursement Principles in Health Care in the two year curriculum.Students also receive experience using the Virtual Lab of the HIM profession offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

IUN’s program is accredited by Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). The program costs $7,000 per year for students from within IN and $20,000 for out-of-state students .

IUN also offers Bachelor of Science program in Health Information administration for further specialisation. The university also has a near 100% pass rate for its students appearing for the RHIA certification exam. IUN is a great choice for anyone looking for a program that gives you all the skills needed to be a medical coding professional but with a much lesser cost compared to many programs.

University of Pittsburgh (SHRS)  – Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management

Department of HIM at School of Health and Rehabilitation Services (SHRS) offers a two year BS degree during fall. The course requires 60 credits in general education courses to begin the program and 123 credits to graduate. The  courses include Anatomy, Physiology, Medical Terminology, Database Management and Analytics, and Epidemiology. The program also provides four Clinical Education internships that provide students with practical experiences by working in healthcare clinics.

The estimated cost of the two-year program for tuition and fees for a Pennsylvania resident student is $27,000 per year and $44,000 for out-of-state students before any financial aid.  This also does not include room & board fees or supply costs. Apart from the scholarships from AHIMA Foundation and HIMSS Foundation, the students can also apply for scholarships from Pennsylvania Health Information Management Association (PHIMA). There are also many school provided scholarships that are available to deserving students.

SHRS also offers two Masters programs in Health Care Supervision & Management and Health Information Systems respectively.

Conclusion

Whether you’ve got years under your belt already, or you’re just starting in one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, you can identify the best road for your needs from these degree programs.

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