Even during difficult economic times, practices and hospitals recognize the need for well trained and certified medical coding specialists to increase their own reimbursement from insurance companies and Federal programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Without the appropriate billing coding, reimbursement for services rendered can be held up for months and require an obscene amount of time and paperwork to rectify the situation.
A medical coder is responsible for the financial stability of a practice, hospital or outpatient clinic/surgical center. They are normally accountable for remaining current on coding guidelines and policies which analyze questionable documents. In an era of privacy questions and identity theft, medical coding software, accuracy and privacy of patient information cannot be overstated.
Often times the medical coder will assign the appropriate ICD or CPT coding to the patient billing documentation and will update the patient databases with the correct classification codes to resolve conflicts between insurance companies and the medical practice.
Maintaining certification will also help the coder to stay current with new changes to the law and software updates in order to keep the practice compliant with the latest developments and trends in medical record coding. Although the position works internally, the coder must also have good customer service skills to communicate with patients who are behind on their bills or who need their bill explained to them.
And, the medical coding specialist will have daily interactions with nurses, physicians and other medical staff which requires them to have good interpersonal skills.
The salary for this essential employee will vary based on geographical location, educational background, certification and experience.
Educational experience can range from on-the-job training (not seen as often now as education programs have become more popular within four year universities) to a four year degree which includes internships in the field. Those individuals who come from a bachelor degree background with internships in the field will have more experience and a better potential for employment because they require less on-the-job training once hired.
Medical coders who live in California will make more in salary each year than those living in the mid-west; but the Atlantic coast cities, such as New York, in which individuals command the highest salaries.
The final factor in determination of the salary for a medical billing and coding specialist is whether or not the individual sought and passed certification. Currently, certification is offered by the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC). They state that those who have not taken or passed the certification will sometimes make as much as 20% less than those individuals who have passed the certification.
Salary will also depend upon the work environment, such as whether you work at home or in a practice. Because the hospital or outpatient practice will have specific overhead expenses for hiring you to work onsite, many smaller practices and therapy offices are turning to virtual medical coders, or those who work at home.
While working at home has many benefits to both the practice and the employee, there are specific challenges to be overcome in order to make the situation as beneficial to both parties as possible. Using work-at-home tips and tricks can help to alleviate the stress for a contract employee and increase the confidence level of the employer. Obtaining and maintaining professional certification is just one of those criteria.
When the employee is not in close proximity to the employer and is working as a contract employee, it is more difficult to ascertain if the individual is maintaining their professional level of knowledge about current medical coding regulations and medical record keeping. The certification ensures that the individual is doing just that to maintain their certification status, thereby giving the employer a certain measure of confidence.
Addressing each of these specific factors – education, certification, geographical location, experience and whether the coder works at home will each impact the final medical coder salary.