Medical coding and billing are administrative processes that ensure the smooth operation of healthcare facilities by translating patient medical records into standardized codes. An online certificate or associate degree in medical coding and billing can prepare graduates for an entry-level position in the field. Medical records and health information specialists — one of the potential careers for graduates of this program — earn a median annual salary of $45,240, and the number of available jobs is expected to grow by 9% over the next decade.
Most Affordable Online Colleges Offering Medical Billing & Coding Certificates
These are the most affordable online programs in medical coding and billing based on tuition. All tuitions are specific to online students, and each one is manually researched in order to provide the most accurate data possible. All 25 schools on this list offer tuition rates under $5,000 per year.
Albany State University offers an online Certificate in Medical Coding. The 27-credit program prepares students to take the certified coding associate (CCA) national credentialing exam from the American Health Information Management Association. The curriculum covers health record content and structure, pathophysiology, pharmacology, coding, and advanced coding and reimbursement. Students must have previous prerequisite coursework in medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, and computer applications before starting the program. If students do not have this prior coursework, they may take these classes at Albany State.
Online courses are delivered through the GaVIEW learning management system. Classes can have both synchronous and asynchronous aspects. The school's financial aid office provides information for loans, scholarships, and grants. Military-affiliated students have access to the school's Office of Military and Adult Education to assist with military education benefits. All students have access to career services.
Applicants can submit their applications and any other required information online. Online students have access to a program specialist, an online research database, the school's online writing center, and more.
#2 Alexandria Technical & Community College
Annual Tuition: $2,388
Locations: Alexandria (MN)
Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) offers an online Certificate in Medical Coding Specialist and an online Diploma in Medical Coding Specialist. Both fall under the Medical Coding Specialist program and students pursuing either option will learn proper medical terminology and documentation. Other class topics include anatomy, pharmacology, finance, and coding. Graduates from either program are eligible to take the American Health Information Management Association's Certified Coding Associate exam or the American Academy of Professional Coders exam. The certificate requires three semesters and a total of 19 credit hours, while the diploma program requires four semesters and 45 credit hours to complete.
Online coursework is delivered through the Brightspace learning management platform, and Zoom video-conferencing is used as needed. Students can pursue financial aid and scholarships by filling out an online application. As a medical coder, graduates will be able to review medical documentation and correlate the diagnosis and procedures into numerical codes for insurance companies, hospitals, and other settings as coding specialists, auditors, data quality supervisors, or coding research managers.
To apply, students must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Applicants fill out a series of online forms after first creating a Minnesota State StarID. Online learners work with an advisor to develop their graduation plan and have access to technical assistance, services for veterans, online tutoring, and resources from the school's library.
#3 University of Alaska Fairbanks
Annual Tuition: $2,808
Locations: Fairbanks (AK) (and 1 other)
The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) offers an Occupational Endorsement in Medical Billing and an Occupational Endorsement in Medical Coding. Graduates of both programs qualify for entry-level coding and billing positions in various health care settings and may be able to sit for national certification exams once they meet specified work-experience requirements. Students in the 12-credit medical billing program learn about medical terminology, the reimbursement process, and inpatient and outpatient processes. The 13-credit medical coding endorsement teaches students how to analyze medical records and assign diagnosis codes.
UAF uses the Blackboard learning platform to deliver course material asynchronously, allowing students to complete assignments, view grades, and communicate with professors and classmates on their own time. UAF provides career services that include online career coaching and an assessment for students who are figuring out their preferred path.
Interested applicants must have a GED or high school transcripts. Prospective students can submit an online application and connect with an academic advisor to receive guidance through the admissions process. Distance learners have access to UAF’s academic advisors, tech support, tutoring services, and library resources.
#4 Montana State University-Billings
Annual Tuition: $2,832
Locations: Billings (MT)
Montana State University (MSU) - Billings offers an online Certificate of Applied Science in Medical Coding and Insurance Billing. The 31-credit program offers instruction in medical terminology, human biology, business mathematics, and more. Students typically complete the program on a full-time basis over two semesters. Students are required to complete a capstone project before graduation.
Students access their online courses through the D2L learning management system. MSU accepts transfer credits. Online students have access to the school's financial aid office for information on grants, scholarships, loans, and other information to help pay tuition. The Military and Veterans Success Center assists military-affiliated students with veteran's benefits and joining the school's Student Veteran Organization. All students also have access to career advising services and graduates become part of the alumni network.
Interested applicants can complete their applications and submit any related materials online. Services available to online students include academic advising, IT support, academic support, disability services, legal services, library services, and more.
#5 Cowley County Community College
Annual Tuition: $3,480
Locations: Arkansas City (KS)
The Certificate in Medical Coding (Vocational Certificate B) program from Cowley County Community College educates students in the international classification standards for healthcare diagnoses and procedures. The curriculum includes classes in procedure terminology, reimbursement methods, and ICD-10 coding. The program culminates in a practicum on healthcare coding. Graduates are eligible to apply for national certification through the American Academy of Professional Coders.
Cowley provides an online learning platform that is competency-based and workforce specific: students will use the same software used by professional medical coders. Online course content is managed through Blackboard learning management software and follows an asynchronous format. Students can interact with faculty over email or phone. Cowley provides institutional scholarships, including some awards for full-time students in the Health and Human Services Department.
Cowley’s online application is free, and students may begin taking classes at Cowley while still in high school. Online students receive virtual tutoring, academic advising, and enrollment assistance.
#6 Western Nebraska Community College
Annual Tuition: $3,547
Locations: Scottsbluff (NE)
Western Nebraska Community College (WNCC) offers an online Diploma in Coding Technician. This three-semester program requires 45 to 46 credits to complete, and courses cover human anatomy, body structure and functions, disease processes, medical terminology, and coding applications. Graduates learn how to apply medical coding knowledge to evaluate health records and solve coding and reimbursement issues.
Online courses are hosted on the Blackboard learning management system lectures, where students can access assignments, participate in discussions, and take quizzes. Students study at their own pace but must meet assignment deadlines. About 93% of UNCC graduates start a career or continue onto advanced studies after completing their programs.
Students can apply online to be considered. The school offers an eHelp Center for technical assistance. Students can also take advantage of Ed2Go for professional development and career support.
#7 Madison Area Technical College
Annual Tuition: $3,889
Locations: Madison (WI)
Madison Area Technical College (MATC) offers two online medical billing and coding programs: a Technical Diploma in Medical Billing Specialist and a Technical Diploma in Medical Coding Specialist. Both programs can be completed in one year. The medical coding option requires 35 credits includes pre-program courses and core program courses in human disease for health professions, healthcare revenue management, management of coding services, and more. In the 28-credit medical billing program, students receive instruction in keyboard skill-building, written communication, customer contact skills, and more.
Students at MATC use the Blackboard learning management system to access their online classes. Online classes may include both synchronous and asynchronous components. Students can work with the school's financial aid office to learn more about tuition payment options. MATC offers benefits for active-duty service members, veterans, military spouses, dependents. Online students can schedule phone and video appointments for career counseling services.
Interested applicants can submit their applications online. Online students at MATC have access to services, including career advising, IT support, the student success team, and more.
#8 Weber State University
Annual Tuition: $3,892
Locations: Ogden (UT)
The Certificate of Proficiency in Healthcare Coding at Weber State University is a 10-course program that prepares students to take national coding certification exams. This program includes classes on medical terminology, integrated anatomy, and pharmacology, and students learn about the ICD-10-CM, ICD-10-PCS, and CPT coding systems. By taking the recommended course load, students can finish in four semesters.
Weber State University uses the Canvas learning management system. Students can take courses at their own pace on the semester-based schedule or sign up for independent study courses that start at any time and must be completed within six months. Graduates can pursue a career as a medical coder with a median annual income of $47,000. Weber offers students grants, scholarships, and loans to help with tuition costs.
Students can apply for this program online. The school offers support for online learners and disability services.
#9 Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
Annual Tuition: $3,958
Locations: Fennimore (WI)
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC) offers an online Medical Coding Specialist Technical Diploma. Students work with data and improve their medical terminology and communication skills to prepare for entry-level healthcare positions. Coursework covers digital literacy, basic anatomy, health information management, and coding. The diploma requires 33-34 credits to complete, with classes running for either eight or 16 weeks.
SWTC hosts online classes on the Schoology learning management platform, where students can access materials, submit assignments, participate in discussion boards, and take exams. To help fund the certificate, students can pursue scholarships from the college foundation as long as they enroll in six credits per semester. The Career Services center can help with interview preparation, resume building, and job searching.
Interested candidates should submit an application (with fee), official transcripts, and ACT scores (or take the Accuplacer exam). Some prior learning credits may apply for those with previous college, volunteer, or professional experiences. Resources available to online students include academic coaches, an IT service desk, and digital library services.
#10 Oconee Fall Line Technical College
Annual Tuition: $4,000
Locations: Sandersville (GA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Oconee Fall Line Technical College (OFLTC) offers an online Technical Certificate in Medical Billing Clerk. The program usually takes two semesters to complete and requires a minimum of 20 credit hours. Students train in the skills needed for proficiency in medical insurance and reimbursement practices in health care, taking courses in document production, health care coding, anatomy, and medical terminology.
Using the Blackboard learning platform, students participate in classroom discussions and activities, take quizzes, communicate with instructors, and access course materials. OFLTC provides interested students with personalized career counseling, which includes advice on pursuing further degrees in the field and help with preparing a professional resume. Georgia residents may be eligible for education grants.
Prospective students take an entrance exam (or provide scores from previous assessments) and submit an online application with all academic transcripts. Applicants must be at least 16 years old. Technical support is available for online students along with resources such as tutoring, academic advising, and disability accommodations.
Online courses are delivered via the Moodle learning management system. CCC periodically updates courses to reflect current advancements in the coding industry. The school offers scholarships like the Finish Line Grant, which helps students cover medical expenses or other financial emergencies.
The application is available online, and the school has admissions counselors who can help students through the process. Online students can take advantage of support services such as career counseling and academic advising.
#11 (tie)Edgecombe Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,020
Locations: Tarboro (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Edgecombe Community College offers an online Diploma in Health Information Technology with a specialization in coding, along with a Certificate in Health Information Technology with three optional concentrations: coding, protected health information, and ambulatory billing and coding. The diploma takes 43 credits to complete, and the certificates take 16-17 credits. Students learn how to code diagnoses, coordinate costs, monitor policy, and perform research. Diploma students must complete a supervised practicum experience within a clinical setting before graduation. Graduates with the diploma or one of the coding certificates may be prepared to sit for the American Health Information Management Association’s Certified Coding Specialist exam if they also meet the work-experience requirements.
Online coursework is delivered asynchronously through the Moodle learning management platform. Edgecombe has a financial aid office that can help students with applications for federal aid.
New students must complete an online application, provide official high school transcripts (or GED equivalent), and provide any applicable postsecondary transcripts. Once accepted, students attend an online orientation session and meet with an admissions counselor for academic advising and an individual graduation plan. Online students have access to Edgecombe’s digital library, free Microsoft Office software, 24/7 Moodle technical support, and a tutoring center.
#11 (tie)Lenoir Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,020
Locations: Kinston (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Lenoir Community College (LCC) offers two online options to build medical coding skills: a 15-credit Medical Coding, Billing, & Insurance Certificate and a 43-credit Medical Billing and Coding Diploma. Certificate students complete courses in diagnostic and procedure coding and the complexities of medical insurance. Diploma students also take these, plus classes in office administration and legal issues in medicine. Diploma students also complete one math course and one writing course to graduate.
Online coursework is delivered through the Moodle learning platform, where students can access assignments and quizzes. Online classes are asynchronous, and students are responsible for meeting due dates. Lenoir belongs to the College Central Network, a career hub where students can post resumes and review job opportunities.
New students can complete an online orientation on accessing and navigating online coursework. Applicants need a high school diploma or its equivalent, and must submit official transcripts proving this. Various resources are offered to online students, including academic writing services and 24/7 technical support.
#14 San Juan College
Annual Tuition: $4,100
Locations: Farmington (NM)
The online Certificate in Medical Insurance Coder/Biller program at San Juan College (SJC) falls under the health information technology program within the health sciences department. The 30-credit hour program must be completed in two years and includes classes in pharmacology, physician coding, and medical reimbursement practices. A professional practice experience and coding seminar are also included in the curriculum. The program prepares students for the American Health Information Management Association's Certified Coding Associate exam.
Online coursework is delivered through the Canvas learning management platform, which hosts a variety of online tools, including Zoom, Techsmith Knowmia, Canvas Conferences, and more. Classes may have synchronous and asynchronous components. Graduates will understand the policies, regulations, standards, and strategies required to obtain and protect health information in various settings, including hospitals, doctors' offices, and other health care settings. SJC hosts a range of scholarships to help students fund their education.
Candidates must have competent computer skills, take the Accuplacer exam, and complete prerequisite courses at SJC. Students can apply online, but acceptance to SJC does not guarantee entry into the competitive program. Online learners have access to the Advising and Counseling Center, the Career Center, enrollment services, the TRiO Center for first-generation and low-income students, and a Veteran Center.
#15 Central Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,140
Locations: Grand Island (NE)
Central Community College (CCC) offers an online Diploma in Medical Coding through the Health Sciences Department. Students learn how to analyze medical records and transcribe diagnoses and procedures into relevant codes for billing and insurance. The program requires 41 credit hours to complete, including 31 in the major. Coursework covers topics in pharmacology, disease conditions, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and medical coding classification systems. Graduates are eligible to take the Certified Coding Associate exam offered through the American Health Information Management Association.
Online courses are asynchronous and delivered through the Moodle learning management platform. CCC’s Career and Employment Services counsels job seekers and helps with resume and interview preparation.
Candidates complete an online application and a pre-enrollment assessment to apply. Students transferring from another program at Central Community College must have at least a 2.0 GPA. Online learners have access to library resources, Moodle training workshops, an IT help desk, disability services, and online tutoring.
#16 Vance-Granville Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,288
Locations: Henderson (NC) (and 3 others)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Vance-Granville Community College (VGCC) offers an online Certificate in Medical Coding Specialist. Graduates of this 24-credit program will be prepared for entry-level coding positions in medical facilities and insurance agencies and may be eligible for industry certification exams. The coursework covers diagnostic and procedure coding, medical terminology, and advanced coding methodology, and culminates with an on-site work-experience course.
Coursework is delivered using Moodle, a learning management system through which students communicate with their instructor and classmates, take quizzes, and watch lectures. VGCC provides institutional scholarships to select students, including some based on merit or need, along with a Career Coach tool featuring career assessments and a resume builder.
The program has multiple start dates in July, August, September, or October. To apply, students with a high school education can submit an online application. Online students have access to online tutoring, academic advising, and web accessibility support for anyone needing an accommodation.
#17 (tie)Ogeechee Technical College
Annual Tuition: $4,400
Locations: Statesboro (GA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online Certificate in Medical Billing Clerk program from Ogeechee Technical College (OTC) prepares students for an entry-level medical billing or coding career in health care. The curriculum includes courses in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, health care coding, and human diseases. Graduates may be qualified to take several certification exams offered by the American Health Information Management Association. Students typically complete this 22-credit program in two semesters.
OTC uses Blackboard to deliver course material. This is where students submit their assignments, take quizzes, and participate in classroom discussions. Professors may provide live lectures, but will always record them so that students can watch on their own time. The Career Services Office can help students write effective resumes and search for jobs as they near graduation.
Prospective students must be at least 16 years old and have standardized test scores that meet minimum requirements. If they meet the qualifications, students can submit an online application through the college’s website. Distance learners have access to academic resources such as tutoring, career services, and counseling.
Most online coursework is delivered through the Blackboard learning management software, where students can access videos and presentations and participate in discussion boards. Online classes can have both asynchronous and synchronous components. Online students have access to academic advisors, technical assistance, and A Lending Library for individuals seeking affordable textbooks.
To apply to STC’s online certificate program, candidates must submit official high school transcripts (or GED equivalent), complete an application, and satisfy placement testing standards in reading, writing, and algebra.
#17 (tie)West Georgia Technical College
Annual Tuition: $4,400
Locations: Waco (GA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
West Georgia Technical College (WGTC) offers both a Certificate in Medical Billing Clerk and a Certificate in Medical Coding online through the School of Business and Public Services. The 22-credit hour medical billing clerk program emphasizes administrative services, coding, and anatomy. The 24-credit hour medical coding certificate teaches students how to accurately manage confidential patient medical records through courses on human disease, document production, and medical terminology.
Online coursework is available through the Blackboard learning management platform. Courses follow an asynchronous format, but students are responsible for completing assignments and exams on time. Medical coding students who live in Georgia may be able to fund their certificate with a HOPE Career Grant.
Interested individuals can attend a virtual open house for enrollment assistance. To apply, students must complete an online application and submit official transcripts and placement test scores. Online learners at WGTC have access to the library's electronic resources, accessibility services, a technical help desk, academic advising, and free Microsoft Office software.
#20 Hutchinson Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,410
Locations: Hutchinson (KS) (and 2 others)
Hutchinson Community College (HCC) offers an online Certificate in Healthcare Coding Specialist program, requiring 45 credits offered over three semesters. Students are instructed in pharmacology, human anatomy and physiology, health information processes, legal and ethical issues in healthcare, pathophysiology, reimbursement methodology, and more.
Online classes are delivered through the Canvas learning management system. Online students have access to the school's financial aid office for information about financing their education. Students also have access to career exploration services, including free access to career assessment testing and career counseling. Military or veteran students have access to HCC's military services department, assisting students with their military benefits. HCC may accept previous military training and/or educational experience for course credit (subject to approval).
Interested applicants can submit their program application and any other required materials online. Support services available include IT support, exam proctoring, one-on-one tutoring, writing assistance, and more.
#21 Seminole State College of Florida
Annual Tuition: $4,747
Locations: Sanford (FL) (and 3 others)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Seminole State College of Florida offers an online Medical Information Coder/Biller Technical Certificate. The 37-credit program can be completed in approximately a year and a half depending on a student’s course load per term. Graduates can apply credits to an associate degree or become entry-level medical coders responsible for analyzing medical records, assigning codes to procedures and diagnoses, and processing patient billing and insurance. Students take courses in anatomy, disease, pathophysiology and pharmacology, and medical terminology, and the program culminates in a practicum that provides real-world experience.
Most classes are available online through the Canvas learning management system, but some courses may have on-campus requirements. Students who apply for federal financial aid can also pursue scholarships through the Seminole State Foundation.
Students must submit an online application and transcripts to apply. Applicant should have already completed the appropriate prerequisite coursework for the core classes. Resources for online students include career counseling, advising, and online tutoring.
#22 Georgia Northwestern Technical College
Annual Tuition: $4,800
Locations: Rome (GA) (and 3 others)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online Certificate in Medical Coding from Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) is a technical certificate program designed to give students advanced training for entry into the field. The program requires 24 credit hours to graduate. The curriculum covers topics in medical billing, human disease, anatomy, document production, and the fundamentals of English.
Online classes are delivered through the Blackboard learning management platform. GNTC’s financial aid office can help with applying for scholarships and grants, some of which have Georgia residency requirements.
A high school diploma or a GED is not required to enroll but must be completed before graduating this certificate program. Students still need to submit high school transcripts (or the educational equivalent) and be at least 16 years old. The Accuplacer exam (or ACT or SAT scores) may also be required. Distance learners have access to several student resources, including 24/7 online tutoring, program advising, veteran educational services, disability accommodations, and additional support services for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
#23 (tie)Central Carolina Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,824
Locations: Sanford (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) offers online education options in health care coding: a Certificate in Medical Office Insurance Coding and Diploma in Advanced Medical Coding. In the certificate program, students learn the fundamentals of medical terminology, legal issues, billing, and coding while refining their critical research and writing skills. The program culminates in an internship. Diploma students take courses in medical terminology, human anatomy and physiology, and the three major medical coding systems. This program is designed to take part-time students five semesters to complete.
Online learning is facilitated through the Blackboard system. CCCC provides several scholarship options, including some for merit and others based on North Carolina residency.
Prospective students can take an online demo course before applying. Applicants must complete a residency determination form, complete an academic assessment, submit a completed application (with fee), submit official transcripts, and attend an orientation via phone or video-conferencing format. Once accepted, distance learners have access to an academic advisor for degree planning.
#23 (tie)Fayetteville Technical Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,824
Locations: Fayetteville (NC) (and 1 other)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) offers a fully online Certificate in Inpatient Medical Coding Specialist. The 18-credit program can be completed in two semesters. Students take courses in medical terminology, ICD and CPT coding, and reimbursement methods in a hospital setting. Graduates learn skills to prepare them for the CPC-H coding certification exam available to members of the American Academy of Professional Coders.
Online coursework is asynchronous and hosted on the Blackboard learning management platform. FTCC provides financial aid assistance for students applying for federal aid or institutional merit- or need-based scholarships. The school’s Career Development Center can help with job coaching and career planning or answer questions about pursuing further degrees.
To be considered for admission, students must submit transcripts showing a high school diploma or GED equivalent and complete an Accuplacer exam to determine academic readiness. Online students have access to the Student Learning Center, NetTutor services, and success coaches for broader help with school-life balance.
#23 (tie)Gaston College
Annual Tuition: $4,824
Locations: Dallas (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Gaston College offers a fully online Certificate in Medical Office Administration - Billing and Coding. The 16-credit certificate program equips students with skills in medical coding and terminology through courses in medical office terms, insurance and billing, legal issues in a medical office, and diagnostic and procedure coding. Graduates are prepared for entry-level careers in the healthcare field, and a certificate can serve as a step toward a recognized medical coding certification.
Online classes are hosted on the Blackboard learning management system. Coursework is asynchronous and students are responsible for completing their work independently and submitting assignments through Blackboard. Gaston provides scholarship opportunities, though awards may be limited for certificate students.
To apply, candidates must be 18 or older and have a high school diploma or GED. Students must complete an online application, submit transcripts, and take placement exams. Online students can work with an admissions specialist for help enrolling. Online students have access to virtual tutoring, technical support, and disability accessibility services.
#23 (tie)Guilford Technical Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,824
Locations: Jamestown (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) offers students an online Certificate in Medical Office Billing & Coding. This 18-credit course can be completed in three semesters. Students receive instruction in medical office terms, medical insurance and billing, procedure coding, diagnostic coding, and medical coding certification prep. GTCC also offers a 37-credit, online Diploma in Medical Office Administration - Medical Billing and Coding.
Students access their online courses through the Moodle learning management system. Classes may include both synchronous and asynchronous components, such as reading assignments, lectures, participation in discussion board conversations, quizzes, exams, and more. Military-affiliated students have access to the school's Veterans Resource Center to assist in using military education benefits. Students also have access to the Career Services office for help with career advising and planning. After graduation, students can join GTCC's alumni network.
Interested applicants can submit their applications and any required information online. Services available to online students are access to the Student Success Center, an online learning orientation, academic advising services, online library access, and more.
#23 (tie)Wayne Community College
Annual Tuition: $4,824
Locations: Goldsboro (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Wayne Community College (WCC) offers several online programs for students pursuing a career in medical coding. To earn a Diploma in Medical Office Administration — Medical Coding, students take courses on medical terminology, word processing, medical insurance and billing, diagnostic coding, and medical-legal issues over a three-semester period. Earning the Certificate in Medical Office Administration — Medical Insurance takes two semesters to complete and includes courses on medical-legal issues, medical insurance and billing, and procedural and diagnostic coding.
Most online courses are hosted on the Moodle learning management system, but faculty may also require students to use other programs. The courses in these programs prepare students for national coding exams and help them gain the skills to join one of the fastest-growing industries. The school offers a payment plan and several scholarships for in-state or veteran students. Students have access to Workforce Continuing Education classes through ed2go.
WCC accepts applications at any time. Once students are enrolled, they can access technical services, career services, and counseling.
Overview of Online Medical Billing & Coding
Medical coders gather patient information such as medical history, symptoms, diagnostic tests, and examination results. They then accurately, and with discretion, process these records into standardized numeric codes so that billers can send reimbursement claims to insurance companies. The two job functions may overlap in smaller healthcare facilities, where coders may also be expected to work on billing. To enter either field, you'll need either a certificate or associate degree in medical billing or coding, either of which you can earn online.
Students who opt for certificates will learn the key terms and functions they'll need on the job, including medical terminology and code systems, relevant health and data privacy laws, and billing and bookkeeping fundamentals.
Students who opt for certificates will learn the key terms and functions they'll need on the job, including medical terminology and code systems, relevant health and data privacy laws, and billing and bookkeeping fundamentals. The most affordable certificates are usually offered through community or technical colleges, but a number of four-year colleges also feature online certificates.
Associate degree programs build on coding and billing fundamentals with general education requirements and additional coursework in healthcare administration. As with certificates, online associate degrees are most often found at community colleges, but four-year schools are increasingly providing two-year programs.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Certified Medical Coder?
Whether you are enrolled online or in-person, certificate programs are typically designed to take 27-30 credit hours, and associate degrees usually require twice that amount. This works out to 9-12 months of full-time study for a certificate and about two years for an associate degree. However, it's also true that while programs are designed to be completed in a given time period, students often take longer to finish. Although specific data for medical coding and billing is lacking, only one-third of students at two-year colleges finish their program in the intended amount of time, which is two years for certificates and three years for degrees.
Once a student graduates, they may be able to start work or might be required by their state to earn certification through an exam in their chosen specialty. A number of organizations certify medical coders and billers, each with its own pre-exam requirements. This process may last anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on how long the results take to report and whether a student takes a test prep course.
Although specific data for medical coding and billing is lacking, only one-third of students at two-year colleges finish their program in the intended amount of time, which is two years for certificates and three years for degrees.
Educational Requirements for Online Medical Billing and Coding Programs
Because medical coding and billing careers require only a certificate or associate degree for entry, they might appeal to individuals who don't have the time, finances, or desire to pursue bachelor's degrees. Additionally, application requirements for these programs require only a high school diploma or GED. Valuable skills for beginning billers and coders include basic keyboarding and word-processing skills, familiarity with technology, and a knack for detail.
Medical coding and billing programs are characteristically hands-on and practical. Most associate degree programs will require core classes in mathematics, general sciences, and English. In contrast, online certificate programs tend to have a curriculum that is solely geared toward medical coding and billing. Classes will likely focus on a few key areas, including:
Basic anatomy and physiology to help students understand medicine and its specialized terminology
Technology that students will use to navigate electronic health records, including software applications and healthcare informatics, which is the use of information technology in healthcare settings
Medical coding systems and billing practices
Healthcare information privacy laws and procedures
Although some classes will differ among programs, most certificates and associate degrees in medical coding and billing cover similar topics. We've listed a few common courses here that students are likely to encounter.
Computer Applications in Healthcare: Depending on the program's focus, students will learn the common coding or billing software used in healthcare facilities. Lessons may include cloud storage and security, standalone tools versus integrated coding and billing suites, and an introduction to health informatics.
Human Anatomy and Physiology: Students learn the fundamentals of the human body's systems and their functions. Topics include structural abnormalities and disease pathology. To tie the material to coding and billing, faculty lecture on which medical procedures are indicated for specific diagnoses.
Introduction to Diagnosis Coding Systems: This course introduces the International Classification of Diseases Manual (ICD-10-CM) and associated terminology. Professors discuss accuracy in coding compliance, insurance requirements, and protection of patient health data. Emphasis is often placed on preparing students for a certification exam.
Introduction to Procedure Coding Systems: Students begin studying one of both of the standard procedure systems: the ICD-10-PCS (Procedure Coding System) or the Current Procedural Terminology Manual published by the American Medical Association. As with diagnosis coding courses, faculty will discuss coder and biller ethics and patient confidentiality as well as help prepare students for certification.
Medical Insurance and Billing: This course introduces the types of medical insurance in the U.S. and how to bill them for reimbursement. Enrollees learn about private carriers, Medicare and Medicaid, and the differences between inpatient and outpatient reimbursement. Patient privacy laws are usually covered extensively.
The U.S. Department of Education grants authority to several private accreditation bodies that allows them to evaluate the academic merit of colleges and universities. Accreditation signifies that a school meets high academic standards and hires qualified instructors. When researching online certificate and associate degree programs, prospective students should consider only programs offered at accredited institutions.
When researching online certificate and associate degree programs, prospective students should consider only programs offered at accredited institutions.
Applicants to certificate programs can start by reviewing the database for the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools, which accredits schools whose primary focus is occupational or career-oriented diploma and degree programs. Students interested in an associate degree may want to seek out a regionally accredited school instead. Regional accreditation is the most rigorous form, and students will be able to transfer credits from these schools more easily than credits from nationally accredited colleges. Prospective students can check a college's regional accreditation status through one of the bodies that comprise the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.
Cost of Online Medical Billing and Coding Certificates and Associate Degrees
According to OnlineU's manually researched data, the median annual tuition for an online certificate in medical billing and coding is $5,681. This median reflects 50 individual programs ranging from $1,140 to $15,000. For online associate degrees, the median yearly tuition is $9,242. Tuition rates at the 16 colleges in this small sample range from $3,465 to $20,688.
Besides tuition, students may need to pay certain fees and buy books and supplies, which may include coding and billing software.
One potential benefit of online programs is that they usually cost less than comparable in-person education, because schools can enroll more distance learners without needing to make costly infrastructure upgrades to their campuses. At community colleges, this means that online students are often charged the most affordable in-district rate even if they live out of the school's district or state.
However, prospective students may find it cost-effective to enroll in an online certificate or associate degree program in their state, which would allow them to qualify for state financial aid. Some states award scholarships or grants to students pursuing certificates or associate degrees, but only to residents of that state who are attending an in-state school. In addition, AHIMA provides $1,000 scholarships to high-performing students or military veterans who are pursuing an associate degree in a health information field.
What Are the Certification Requirements for Careers in Medical Billing and Coding?
Though certification isn't legally required for medical coders in most states, it is recommended. An official certification can increase your job prospects and show potential employers that you are committed to the profession. Based on a 2020 salary survey, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) reports that certified professional coders earn wages that are 39% higher on average than those of non-certified coders.
Which Certification Is Best?
Several professional organizations provide specialty certifications for medical coders and billers, so it can be difficult to know which one to obtain. Each group has different requirements for its certifications, but most require students to graduate from an accredited coding or billing program, work a set amount of time in the field, and join the organization as a dues-paying member.
Because billing and coding graduates have so many choices of certifications, it's important to discuss the options with faculty and professionals currently working in the field. We've detailed the two largest certification organizations below, including the results of the latest salary surveys of their members.
AAPC: This organization has 200,000 members and offers one biller certification and six coder certifications. AAPC exam requirements include current AAPC membership and two years of coding or billing experience for its entry-level credentials. An associate degree is recommended but not required. For coding and billing specialties, AAPC reports average salaries that range from $53,903 to $73,623 depending on the credential earned.
American Health Information Management Association: With 103,000 members, AHIMA is the second-largest medical coding and biller certification body. It provides three options: the Certified Coding Associate credential for professionals with at least six months of experience, and two Certified Coding Specialist credentials for those with at least two years of experience. For AHIMA's coder members, self-reported average salaries range from $53,790 to $79,060 depending on the type of certification.
Career Options in Medical Coding and Billing
Although "medical coder" and "medical biller" are generic titles for some jobs in the healthcare industry, the range of actual titles and duties can vary depending on an employee's certifications, workplace, and years of experience. The most recent AAPC member survey shows that the biggest bump in pay comes when coders or billers earn either a certificate or associate degree, and those who work in large health or hospital systems earn the most. Further, coders and billers are relatively happy with their work: AAPC reports that 60.6% described themselves as very or somewhat satisfied in their roles.
Below, we've listed some of the most common entry- to mid-level jobs in medical coding and billing, according to a recent AHIMA study. The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups these together under the category of medical records and health information specialists, with a median annual salary of $44,090 and a healthy job-growth rate of 8%, but we've also listed salary information from other sources where available.
Clinical Documentation Specialist
These specialists come first in the coding and documentation chain, recording diagnosis and procedure codes in patient records before passing them to billers. They need to stay current on new or updated understandings of medical conditions and procedures, codes and terminology, and laws and regulations around patient data and privacy.
Coding Professional/Coding Specialist
Employees in this role review all coding in a healthcare setting to audit records for accuracy and regulatory compliance. They may need to conduct retraining or information sessions for coders, billers, or doctors to ensure consistency in the workplace. AHIMA reports average salaries of $66,370 for this job group.
Billers compile relevant patient medical codes and send them to insurers for reimbursement. Their work must be accurate so they can catch any potential coding or billing errors, which requires expert knowledge of medical codes and the insurance industry. Medical billers certified through AAPC report average earnings of $53,903.
Related Careers: Medical Transcription and Health Information Technology
One profession that's related to medical coding and billing is medical transcription. Medical transcriptionists create written copies of audio recordings made by doctors and other medical professionals. Medical coders can then assign diagnosis codes based on these transcripts before passing the record to billers.
Many community colleges and technical or trade schools offer online medical transcription certificates or associate degrees. Certificate programs take about one year and prepare graduates for entry-level positions by training them to transcribe a variety of medical records. Students take courses on medical terminology, transcription formatting, and computer applications, including voice recognition software.
Two-year associate degrees cover the professionally oriented curriculum of the certificate as well as general education classes. Faculty cover topics such as pharmacology for medical office professionals, business English, and advanced transcription methods. Medical transcription associate degrees often require an internship or professional practice experience in a medical office.
Medical transcription skills are also covered in health information technology (HIT) associate degree programs. This discipline applies IT skills to medical records management, medical billing, transcription, and medical coding. HIT degree programs can be a good choice for technically savvy students who are interested in coding but want a wider array of job opportunities.
Is It Worth It to Get a Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Online?
The answer to this question is different for everyone, because everyone's goals, finances, and responsibilities vary. Based on the numbers, however, it may be worthwhile in the long run to earn an online certificate or associate degree in medical coding or billing. Jobs in this field usually pay higher than the median salary for all U.S. jobs, and the growth rate for open positions is twice the U.S. average. It's also possible, though not typical, for students to earn a certificate in as little as one year, and an associate degree in two. This allows them to enter the job market earlier while they plan their next career move.
Jobs in this field usually pay higher than the median salary for all U.S. jobs, and the growth rate for open positions is twice the U.S. average.
Medical coding and billing graduates may, however, encounter some downsides once they're in their new careers. First, coders and billers usually need to work for 6-24 months before they can take a certification exam, and they'll often earn lower wages during that time. When coders are ready to earn a certification from the AAPC or AHIMA, they'll need to pay dues to join one of these organizations. Employers will require at least a certificate and most expect employees to eventually become certified. Because of the importance and sensitivity of medical records, healthcare employers generally won't hire self-taught coders or billers. Finally, coders and billers may also find it difficult to advance in their careers without further degrees or certifications, which will require them to put more time and money into education and training.
Prospective applicants may wonder about the specific benefits of enrolling in an online program. Many online students enjoy the flexibility to watch lectures and complete coursework at convenient times, which allows them to organize their study time around other responsibilities. Another potential advantage is that online learning can help prepare students for the unique discipline required to work online and independently. This is particularly beneficial to a student's success in their future career, as many coders and billers work remotely full time.
However, online education also comes with potential downsides. Some students simply work better in a dedicated classroom environment, which offers more structure and the chance to ask questions of professors in real time. Distance learners may also miss some opportunities for networking in classrooms and on campus — they may need to be especially diligent about seeking out alumni and meeting with school career counselors.
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