Do I Need A Degree To Become A Medical Coder?
"I am thinking of becoming a medical coder. I have been reading a lot about it on various websites online, and I think it’s cool that you can do coding online from your home. What I want to know is, do I need a degree to get one of these coding jobs (online or offline)? I heard a statistic that nearly half of employers are willing to consider a coder who doesn’t have a degree or even a certification. How important is it to spend money and time on my education? I’d rather just get started if I can make a living."
asked by Dan from Provo, UT
Can you become a medical coder without a certification or a degree? The short answer is yes. Should you, however? The answer to that question is equally short, and it’s no. Why not? Because there is a huge gap between what you can earn without a degree or certification and what you can earn with one. Not to mention, that statistic you have seen represents a change in favor of degree holders.
A few years ago, more than half of employers were willing to hire a coder with no certification. Now less than half of employers would do that, which means employers are respecting certification more and more. If you want to be competitive (and in this job market you really should not mess around), you will get a certification at the very least.
Salary is the other reason you definitely want a certification and should think very hard about at least getting an associate’s degree, if not higher. The American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC) has done some research to try and determine what the average salary is for a professional coder. The BLS only provides information for “health information technicians”, which is a broad category. The AAPC came up with $47,870 to represent the average salary of all respondents to their survey.
It is still worth looking at the BLS data, however. The BLS states that the average salary for health information technicians is $32,350 per year, which is noticeably less. This is in part because other types of health information technicians are being considered, but it is also probably an accurate representation of lower end medical coding pay. That translates to around $15 an hour, and you will find plenty of job postings for medical coders offering that wage. $10-15 an hour is all you can expect without certification.
With certification you have a chance to earn more. The AAPC also shows a jump in 9% in earnings for coders with a two year degree. If you have a four-year degree, you can make 21% more than that.
If you have a master’s degree, add another leap of 46% in earnings, up from the bachelor’s degree earnings. So you can see how at the lower end, you would barely make enough to support yourself, much less a family.
At the upper end, you could support yourself and others and still live comfortably. According to this data, a degree is a worthwhile investment for a medical coder. So I strongly urge you to go for an associate’s degree to start with. If you want, you can return later and get a bachelor’s or master’s degree.