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Insurance Coder: Starting a Career in Insurance Coding

Working as an insurance coder requires little formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

Insurance coders can work for a doctor, specialist or group of doctors. Many have an associate's degree in medical coding and insurance billing or a related field; completing a certificate or diploma program is also an option. Certification isn't mandatory, although earning one of these credentials could make the job search easier.

Essential Information

Every time a doctor sees a patient, a record must be kept of the symptoms, diagnosis and medical procedures for billing purposes. Insurance coding specialists ensure that these records are accurate and complete. The majority of coding specialists hold educational awards that relate directly to the field, such as those in health information technology or insurance coding. No licensure or certifications are required by law for this profession, but employers often prefer candidates with credentials beyond formal education.

Required Education Associate's degree in health information technology or a directly related field; certificate and diploma programs are also available
Certification Voluntary certifications through the American Health Information Management Association, the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists and the Board of Medical Specialty Coding
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 15% for medical records and health information technicians*
Mean Salary (2015)* $40,430 for medical records and health information technicians*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Insurance Coder Job Description

Insurance coders, also known as health information coders, medical coders or coding specialists, maintain records so that doctors can bill insurance companies for office visits and procedures that they perform. These specialists use their knowledge of medical processes and classification systems in order to code each procedure and diagnosis. Depending on their work settings, insurance coders might oversee the record keeping for individual doctors, groups of doctors or particular specialists. Coders rarely work directly with patients.

Insurance Coder Educational Requirements

Although certificate and diploma programs in medical coding and insurance billing are available, insurance coders typically hold associate's degrees. In these programs, students take courses in medical terminology, diagnosis and procedural coding, mathematics, medical billing software and office procedures. Students may complete internships or externships, in which they shadow other coders on the job or gain hands-on experience.

Certification

Although employers may prefer to hire credentialed insurance coders, certification is not a requirement. Coders may choose to obtain certification to demonstrate their credentials and knowledge in the field. Many organizations offer certification, such as the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists and the Board of Medical Specialty Coding.

Employers tend to prefer coders who hold the Health Information Technicians (RHIT) credential offered by the American Health Information Management Association. Certification candidates must hold 2-year degrees from approved educational institutions and pass the RHIT exam. To maintain their credentials, RHITs must earn 20 continuing education units each year.

Insurance Coder Outlook and Salary Information

The employment outlook for insurance coders, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), should be very good in the coming years (www.bls.gov). In fact, employment of medical records and health information technicians was predicted to grow 15% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average. The BLS also stated that medical records and health information technicians earned a mean annual salary of $40,430 in May 2015. Most worked in hospitals, which offered a mean salary of $43,080, and physicians' offices, which paid a mean wage of $34,940.

Insurance coders keep the records needed to bill patients for medical visits and treatments. They need to be familiar with medical terminology, medical billing software and office procedures, which are some of the things they learn while enrolled in a certificate, diploma or associate's degree program in medical coding and insurance billing. The job prospects for insurance coders are expected to be strong from 2014 to 2024, with the BLS projecting a job growth rate that's more than twice as fast as the 7% national average for all occupations.


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