Online Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

As the American healthcare system rapidly shifts toward electronic health data and serving an aging population, health professionals face interesting challenges. Medical coders and billers, who process and transfer medical information for healthcare providers and insurance companies, possess computer skills that give them a competitive edge over those still adjusting to this rapidly modernizing industry. Medical coders convert a provider's patient visit report into a numeric or alphanumeric code, put it into a form or computer program, and then supply this information to a medical biller. The biller turns that code into a bill or claim, sends it to the patient or the insurance company, and processes payment collection.

Medical billing and coding play an increasingly crucial role in the healthcare industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the medical records and health technology field will grow 13% from 2016-2026. Although medical billing and coding graduates can work in related fields, they can anticipate well-paying careers. Medical coders and billers in 2018 made a median annual salary of $40,350, with highly skilled coders often earning more than $63,000 annually.

Earning Your Associate in Medical Billing and Coding Online

Pursuing an associate degree in medical billing and coding online gives students an affordable and flexible route to employment. Online students do not need to pay the commuting and accommodation costs that often accompany on-campus study. Online learning occurs asynchronously, giving students the flexibility to complete assignments around other commitments.

Some online associate degrees in medical billing and coding allow students to complete all requirements online, including coursework and tests. However, students pursuing professional certifications often take additional exams in a specified location nearby. In addition, many online medical billing and coding associate programs include in-person internship or work experience components. Students usually choose an approved location nearby to fulfill these requirements.

How Long Does It Take to Earn Your Medical Billing and Coding Associate Degree Online?

Most online associate degrees in medical billing and coding require 60-90 credits and take about two years to complete. Two-year associate programs usually entail about 20 courses. Some programs allow students to decrease these requirements substantially by transferring credit for previous courses or life experience. Although new medical billing and coding graduates sometimes begin in other entry-level healthcare positions before transferring to billing and coding, prior work or internship experience increases their chances of obtaining billing and coding positions early in their careers.

Admission Requirements for an Online Associate in Medical Billing and Coding

Online medical billing and coding associate degree applicants need a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent. Many schools do not require prerequisite standardized testing, but expect a minimum GPA of "C" or better in prior relevant coursework, usually math and science. Some schools require prerequisite introductory courses in biology and allied health.

Courses in an Online Associate in Medical Billing and Coding Program

An online associate program in medical billing and coding typically includes a few general education courses and an internship or practicum. Programs also typically include a series of specialized coding and billing courses that teach students the healthcare coding systems, medical terminology, forms, records, and insurance plan information they need to translate healthcare services into codes and process insurance claims and billing. Online associate programs in medical billing and coding train students to use at least two essential coding systems: the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and the Current Procedural Terminology and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (CPT-4/HCPCS).

Core courses in medical billing and coding associate programs include:

  • Medical Terminology: This course familiarizes students with the medical language used in healthcare contexts. Students learn to analyze and identify terminology by recognizing common medical prefixes, suffixes, roots, and combinations of terms. Medical terminology courses also emphasize correct spelling and pronunciation of these terms and recognition of common symbols and abbreviations.

  • Foundations of Health Services: This course gives an overview of the organization and functioning of America's healthcare system. Students learn how various policies, practices, and politics affect this system.

  • Internship: In an internship, students apply what they have learned in their coursework. They select a work placement in a field relevant to their desired role and context while also participating in related discussions, projects, and other coursework online.

  • Health Information Management: This course teaches students about the numerous professional responsibilities of those in health information management positions. Students also learn the industry's ethical and legal standards as well as the technological and data management skills needed by health information management professionals.

  • Medical Billing and Reimbursement Methods: This course gives students the skills necessary for conducting the business of health facilities. Students learn to assist healthcare providers by managing patients' financial records, billing, payments, and collections. Learners discover how to monitor cash flow and to read and process insurance payments, claims, and denials.

Job and Salary Outlook for Online Associate in Medical Billing and Coding Graduates

Graduates of medical billing and coding programs often work in hospitals, physicians' offices, nursing or residential care facilities, insurance companies, and governmental organizations. Medical billing and coding professionals who prefer to work behind the scenes often enjoy positions including medical coder; medical records and health information technician; insurance policy processing/claims clerk; billing, cost, and rate clerk; or bill and accounts collector. Those who prefer working with people often gravitate toward positions such as health information clerk, medical receptionist, medical secretary, medical records coordinator, or postsecondary vocational education teacher.

Medical Records and Health Information Technician

Median Salary: $40,350

These technicians compile, process, and report patients' medical records, often translating data into a numerical coding system and ensuring that the information meets the healthcare system's range of ethical, regulatory, administrative, legal, and medical requirements.

Information Clerk

Median Salary: $34,520

These professionals interact daily with the public, including customers and visitors, providing information about their organization's services and activities. Information clerks often direct people to the appropriate employee, department, or office.

Accreditation for a Medical Billing and Coding Degree Online Program

Employers of medical coders and billers often prefer job candidates with degrees from accredited schools and programs. Official accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education have verified that these schools and programs meet the highest educational standards.

While many for-profit, vocational, or religious schools possess only national accreditation, nonprofit or state-owned institutions often pursue the more prestigious status associated with regional accreditation. Regional accrediting agencies serve a specific region of the country, while national agencies accredit institutions in many different regions. Regional accreditation requires that schools meet higher academic standards such as more impressive faculty credentials. Due to these differences in standards, regionally accredited schools may not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited schools.

Career-oriented and occupational schools that offer an online associate in medical billing and coding are often accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools. Many programs at accredited schools also boast programmatic accreditation. Such programs have earned programmatic accreditation from agencies that specialize in the particular standards of the field or discipline. For a list of accredited schools that offer a medical billing and coding associate online, click here.

Online Associate in Medical Billing and Coding Scholarships

Most medical billing and coding scholarships require students to apply for the scholarship by completing an online application. Allied health professions also award scholarships and some employers help their employees with education expenses. Students can consult their school's website or financial aid office for information regarding available scholarships.

AHIMA Foundation Merit Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Health Information Management Association awards merit-based scholarships to students currently enrolled in six or more credits of an academic program where they already have maintained a 3.5 GPA or higher in 24 or more completed credits. Eligible applicants possess an AHIMA membership and have at least six credits remaining in their degree program. AHIMA does not consider any prior winners of this same scholarship toward the same degree.

Amount: $1,000

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ASAHP Scholarship of Excellence

Who Can Apply: The Association of Schools of Allied Health Professionals awards scholarships to students demonstrating academic excellence and leadership potential in allied health professions. Eligible applicants boast enrollment and successful performance for at least one academic term in an entry-level degree program at an ASAHP member institution. Eligible institutions nominate only one candidate per scholarship cycle. ASAHP awards the preeminent scholarship recipient an additional $1,000, $2,000 total, and the title of Elwood Scholar.

Amount: $1,000

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California Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Created to help relieve California's healthcare services shortage, the Allied Healthcare Scholarship sponsors recipients who agree to serve 12 months full time at a California healthcare facility in an area qualified by the Health Resources and Services Association as medically underserved or under a healthcare professional shortage. Qualified applicants do not have competing service obligations elsewhere and are enrolled in at least six credits. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher.

Amount: Up to $8,000/year for up to three years.

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Mary M. Zannis Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The New York Health Information Management Association awards a merit scholarship to one qualified student per year. Applicants to this Mary M. Zannis scholarship reside or work in New York State, possess both AHIMSA and NYHIMA memberships, maintain a GPA in a part-time or full-time HIA, HIT, or AHIMA-accredited program in New York State.

Amount: $1,000

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Kathleen A. Frawley Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The New Jersey Health Information Management Association awards scholarships to current students living in New Jersey or attending a health information management program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education in New Jersey. Applicants require AHIMA membership and New Jersey CSA designation, as well as completion of one semester of 12 or more credits with a minimum 3.0 GPA for the most recent semester.

Amount: $1,000

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