How to Get a Medical Coding Degree

By Stacy Zeiger , last updated January 9, 2012

A medical coding degree allows you to work as a medical coder. Medical coders help assign codes to procedures and doctor’s visits in order to properly bill insurance companies for services. Without proper training and skilled medical coders, patients may end up paying more than necessary out-of-pocket and doctors may be underpaid for their services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical coders earn between $20,000 and $40,000 a year. The type of degree you get determines the exact role you will play in the medical coding field and the amount you will make each year.

Certificate Programs

Medical coding certificate and diploma programs prepare you to pass the required exams to work in the medical coding field and are usually year-long programs. Many programs allow you to complete coursework online or through other distance-learning options instead of taking traditional classes outside of the home. As part of a medical coding certificate program, you learn the basics of the health industry, including medical terminology and common systems used in the medical field. You also learn the basics of ICD9-CM Coding and CPT/HCPCS Coding, as well as how to use systems involved in coding for reimbursement. At the end of a medical coding certificate program, you are qualified to take a certified coding exam, such as the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) Exam.

Associate’s Degree Programs

Getting your associate’s degree provides more job opportunities and a slight increase in pay versus simply completing a certificate program. Like medical coding certificate programs, many associate’s degree programs in medical coding offer online courses, although some community college programs also offer on-campus courses. An associate’s degree program typically lasts two years. Through an associate’s degree program in medical coding, students are prepared to take national coding exams offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). In addition to basic coding courses, some degree programs require students to choose between focusing on physician coding or hospital coding for the remainder of their courses.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

While a bachelor's degree is not required for a career in medical coding, medical coders with a bachelor’s degree may find themselves in positions of management or more specialized positions within the field of medical coding. When pursuing a bachelor’s degree related to medical coding, you will likely choose a major in health information systems, health administration, or another general health field. Within that degree program, you will choose courses that focus on the basics of medical coding and systems used in the medical coding field. As part of a bachelor’s degree program in health information systems or health administration, you also take courses related to management, healthcare ethics, and healthcare practices to build a broader base of knowledge about the healthcare world. Some bachelor’s degree programs also provide you with the opportunity to complete internships and gain hands-on experience in the world of medical coding, which may prove invaluable when it comes time to find a job.

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