How to Become an Insurance Coder in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an insurance coder. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Insurance Billing & Coding Specialist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Insurance Coder?

Insurance coders, also called medical coders, are one type of health information technician. It is their job to work as a go-between for healthcare workers and billing officers. They assign medical procedure codes to medical bills sent to insurance companies, which determines the amount insurance companies will reimburse patients and doctors after hospital visits. Below is a table that lists some quick facts about insurance coders.

Education Required Certificate or associate's degree
Certification Voluntary; may be preferred by employers
Key Skills Strong attention to detail and ability to work with computers
Key Responsibilities Translate coded medical records into insurance paperwork
Job Growth (2014-2024)*15% for all medical records and health information technicians
Median Salary (2015)* $37,110 for all medical records and health information technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Insurance Coder?

As an insurance coder, you would use your knowledge of medical terminology and insurance coding to translate medical records into insurance paperwork. The system of codes is used to determine how much insurance companies should reimburse patients and doctors. You need to have a strong attention to detail and be able to work well with computers as many health records become electronic.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In high school you should focus on classes in mathematics, biology, health, and computers. A basic understanding of human anatomy and medicine can be helpful to understanding the diagnoses and treatments that you'll be converting into codes.

Step 2: Attend a Training Program

Most medical coders have at least a certificate in medical coding or an associate's degree in health information technology. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) lists approved coding certificate programs (www.ahima.org) while the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) accredits associate's and higher-level degree programs (www.cahiim.org).

Step 3: Find a Job

You could work at a variety of healthcare institutions, such as hospitals, private doctors' offices, outpatient facilities, long-term care facilities, and home healthcare service companies. You may also be able to find employment with an insurance company or public health department.

Step 4: Get Certified

You may choose to seek a professional certification to demonstrate your knowledge and ability. The American Academy of Professional Coders and AHIMA both offer various levels of certifications for medical coders. You may be required to have completed a training program or to have some years of work experience before you are eligible to take the certification exam.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

After working in the field for some years, you may want to advance in your career. You can use your experience to become a supervisor, overseeing coding procedures. In smaller facilities, you may be able to advance to a director or assistant director of the medical records and health information department.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One related option is medical transcription. As a medical transcriptionist, you'd listen to pre-recorded messages by various healthcare professionals and convert them into text, as well as review and edit these kinds of texts for accuracy. A postsecondary certificate is the typical academic requirement for this occupation. If you enjoy clerical work aren't keen on the complexities of medical coding, working as an information clerk may suit you. In this position, you're responsible for basic clerical tasks in an office setting, often in a specialized area, like licensing, filing, municipal business, or travel, among other options. While a high school diploma is sometimes sufficient for this position, many clerks have some college education.

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