Medical Billing vs. Medical Coding

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Published on January 18, 2022 · Updated on June 20, 2022

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Medical Billing vs. Medical Coding

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason MSN, MHA, BC-NC

The healthcare system is a complicated machine, relying on many different types of professionals to keep it running smoothly. Doctors, surgeons, and nurses certainly play important roles —and so do pharmacists, physician assistants, physical therapists, nutritionists, technicians, and medical billers and coders.

Medical billers and coders make sure healthcare facilities earn enough revenue by sending claims to insurance companies and statements to patients. In short, they ensure that procedures are properly paid for. However, both professions take on unique responsibilities.

If you're interested in the field, then it's important to know the difference between medical billing and coding. This guide explores those differences as they relate to job duties, work environments, certification requirements, and salary outlook.

Steps to Become a Medical Biller or Coder

Below is a step-by-step guide to becoming a medical biller and coder. These steps include general requirements, but specific education requirements vary by state.

1. Obtain a high school or GED diploma.

2. Enroll in a medical biller or coder program at a technical school or an associate degree program.

3. Continue your education through on-the-job training.

4. Earn certification from the American Academy of Professional Coders, if desired, to become a certified professional coder.

What Is the Difference Between Medical Billing and Coding?

Medical coders and billers work alongside each other to achieve the same goal, but they take on distinct roles. Below you can see a breakdown exploring the differences between medical billing and coding.

Job Duties Are Not the Same

Medical coders translate healthcare services and diagnoses into codes that are universally understood by insurance agencies. These codes, a series of numbers and letters, serve as a sort of shorthand that ensures billing and payment is correct and follows regulatory requirements. These professionals know what codes to enter for "new patient visit of low complexity" or a diagnosis for pneumonia. These codes determine how healthcare services receive payment, whether through insurance reimbursement or direct patient payment.

Medical billers pick things up from there, using these codes to actually file insurance claims. This involves working with insurance companies, particularly involving any disputes about denials and rejections. Finally, medical billers send out statements to patients.

That said, at smaller healthcare facilities or doctors clinics without as much staffing, sometimes one person streamlines the insurance billing process and works as both a medical coder and biller. Individuals interested in coding and billing can become trained in both areas of expertise if they wish.

Medical Billers Work With Patients; Medical Coders Do Not

Although medical billers do not work with patients in a clinical sense, they do speak to patients regularly about their payments. This isn't always an easy task, particularly when patients aren't happy with their healthcare bills or when they receive rejections from health insurance companies. Therefore, medical billers need to be empathetic and patient.

Medical coders don't work with patients in their day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, their duties focus on records and data input.

Because of these differences, introverts and extroverts may be best suited for different jobs. Medical billers spend their days speaking on the phone with insurance representatives and patients, which lends itself to a more extroverted personality.

On the other hand, medical coders generally work with records and computers. Although they do work with other healthcare staff, they spend the majority of time working independently — an ideal job for introverts.

Separate Certification Requirements

Professional certification can help individuals qualify for certain jobs. Medical coders can choose from various credentials, including:

Medical billers don't necessarily need professional certification to work, but it can help them land a job or negotiate their salary. Billers should consider the certified professional biller credential from AAPC.

Many professionals in the field attend vocational training programs at colleges, receiving a certificate of completion once they graduate. These programs typically last 1-2 years, and they teach aspiring medical coders and billers the specialized information about health insurance and medical terms they need to succeed in their jobs.

Some students prefer to enroll in an associate degree program in coding and billing instead of vocational training. At the end of their education, graduates earn a full degree instead of a specialized certification.

Salaries and Jobs For Medical Coder vs Medical Biller

When it comes to medical billing vs. medical coding salary, medical coders generally make more than medical billers. Medical coders earn an average annual salary of about $43,260, according to PayScale data from June, 2021. By contrast, PayScale data from the same time shows that medical billers make about $40,340 in mean annual earnings.

Medical coders also have a higher general earnings potential, especially as they continue to work through their careers. Late-career medical coders make an average of $50,240 per year, according to PayScale data from June, 2021, while late-career medical billers earn a $45,250 average salary annually.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes these professionals as medical records and health information specialists. The BLS projects that the profession could grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029 —much faster than average.

How Much Do Medical Billers and Coders Make?

According to the BLS, medical records and health information specialists made a median annual salary of $51,840 in May 2020. Jobs for these professionals are projected to grow by 9% between 2020–2030, which is about the same as the national average. About 34,300 job openings are expected per year.

The BLS reports that the lowest 10% of medical coders made less than $29,130 in 2020, while the highest 10% of workers earned over $105,690. The top-paying industry for this career was the federal government, with general hospitals right below.

The average salary for this position varies by state. The highest-paying states for medical records specialists are Washington D.C., Alaska, and Washington.

Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Billing vs. Medical Coding

How long does it take to become a medical biller or coder?

The road to becoming either a medical biller or coder is very similar. Enrolling in a certificate program or associate degree program is the best place to start.

Trade schools usually last anywhere from a few months to one year, and associate degrees take most students two years. It is vital to research program options before enrolling, as studying part time or self-paced will significantly impact the amount of time you will need to commit to your program.

How much does it cost to become a medical biller or coder?

Medical coding and billing schools vary in tuition price by state and by certification. On average, medical coding and billing programs cost anywhere from $4,200–$19,500 per year. If you plan to take the AAPC Certified Professional Coder exam, prepare to spend an extra $300 after completing your classes.

Keep in mind that financial aid and scholarships may be available to help you cover costs. It is also important to compare the cost of online vs. in-person programs.

Are there online medical biller or coder programs?

Yes. Online technical schools are an excellent option for those who have caregiving responsibilities, work part time, or need to work from home. Many online programs offer self-paced courses, allowing students to train in a vocational trade at their own speed.

U.S. Career Institute offers a 100% online program for those hoping to become medical coders. The course uses a self-paced format and prepares students to take the Certified Professional Coder Certification exam. Tuition begins at $1,239.

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Reviewed by:

Portrait of Brandy Gleason MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason MSN, MHA, BC-NC

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason teaches within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches students. Brandy brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and leader, having held roles at the managerial and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout. Brandy is an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments that contribute to the wellbeing of students.

Feature Image: andresr / E+ / Getty Images

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