Exploring Program Similarities and Differences
A medical billing and coding professional helps healthcare organizations seek reimbursement for products and services rendered. They do this by translating patients’ health information, diagnoses, and treatments into universally recognized codes. These codes are then used to help insurance companies and other payers understand their portion of the bill. A medical biller and coder also helps ensure medical record accuracy.
If this sounds like it might be a good fit for you, you have a few education options. You can earn a medical billing and coding certificate, a medical billing and coding diploma, or a medical billing and coding associate degree. What’s the difference? Let’s begin by first explaining what each one is.
Medical Billing and Coding Certificate Programs
A typical medical billing and coding certificate program provides instruction on topic areas you must know to work in this healthcare role. This includes medical terminology, health information systems, different coding systems, and legal issues related to health information technology.
Certificate programs can vary in terms of length, with some programs able to be completed in nine months and others taking longer, depending on the student. They may also include hands-on training, such as with a virtual training lab.
Some medical billing and coding certificate programs prepare you to sit for a medical billing and coding certification exam, if you meet the eligibility requirements. These certifications are nationally recognized and verify your competency in performing medical biller and coder functions.
Billing and coding certification exams are administered through agencies such as the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and the National Healthcareer Association (NHA). Certification options include:
- Certified Professional Coder (CPC) or apprentice (CPC-A)
- Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)
- Certified Coding Associate (CCA)
- Certified Billing and Coding Specialist (CBCS)
Medical Billing and Coding Certificate vs. Medical Billing and Coding Certification
While these two terms sound similar, they’re actually quite different. A medical billing and coding certificate program provides the knowledge and skills needed to work in this role while earning a medical billing and coding certification demonstrates that you have a certain level of competency in performing the required job functions.
Medical Billing and Coding Diploma Programs
Typical medical billing and coding diploma programs cover topics similar to those in certificate programs, preparing you for this job role. Diploma programs may also help prepare you for similar roles with different job titles, some of which include medical receptionist, medical office assistant, medical records coordinator or technician, and medical claims processor.
Medical billing and coding diploma programs vary in length but can generally be completed in roughly 10 to 12 months. Some provide hands-on training through virtual labs or internships, but not all.
Earning a diploma also helps prepare you to sit for medical billing and coding certification exams, if you qualify. Some medical billing schools even provide additional support to help you get ready for the exam, which can help you feel more confident when taking this credentialing test.
Medical Billing and Coding Degree Programs
Typical medical billing and coding associate degree programs also provide the information needed to perform this job’s duties. When completing an associate degree program, you also take general education courses. This might involve completing courses such as English, math, sociology, biology, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
A medical billing and coding associate degree program may take 18 months to two years to complete. This is due to having more courses. Some offer hands-on training opportunities and/or prepare you to sit for a medical billing and coding certification exam upon meeting eligibility requirements.
If you’ve looked for a higher-level degree, such as a bachelor’s degree in medical billing and coding, you’ve likely found that there isn’t one. While this type of degree isn’t necessary to work as a medical biller and coder, if you still want to pursue one, related programs include health information management, health science, or health services administration.
Medical Billing and Coding Certificate vs Diploma vs Degree
As you’ve likely already recognized, all three of these medical billing and coding programs have similarities, but they also have differences. Let’s talk about the similarities first.
Whether you earn a medical billing and coding certificate, diploma, or degree, all three options may provide the knowledge and skills needed to work in this job role, or at the very least provide a solid foundation. They also may come with some type of hands-on training and typically prepare you to sit for a medical billing and coding certification exam after graduation and upon meeting eligibility requirements.
So, how do these three program types differ? Here are a few factors to consider.
- Prerequisites. To enroll in a medical billing and coding certificate or diploma program, you generally only need a high school diploma or GED. To enroll in a medical billing and coding associate degree program, there may be higher-level requirements, such as completing certain courses beforehand or having a minimum GPA.
- Curriculum. While all three types of programs typically include courses that cover the information needed to work in this healthcare role, only the medical billing and coding associate degree programs include general education courses.
- Program length. A medical billing and coding certificate or diploma program can generally be completed in one year or less. If you enroll in an associate degree program, it typically takes 18 months or more to complete. (Keep in mind that these are just estimates and can vary based on individual student and program requirements.)
- Program cost. Since medical billing and coding certificate and diploma programs are shorter, they typically cost less than an associate degree program. Financial aid options for those who qualify may vary as well.
Which Medical Billing and Coding Program is Right for Me?
If you’re unsure whether you should pursue a medical billing and coding certificate, diploma, or degree, it can help to consider your career goals. If this role is a stepping stone to another healthcare position, you may want an associate degree as it offers a more comprehensive curriculum. Alternatively, if your goal is to only work as a medical biller and coder, a certificate or diploma may be all you need.
It can also be helpful to consider the requirements of future employers. Look at medical billing and coding jobs you’d be interested in pursuing to see if they specify whether a certificate, diploma, or associate degree is required. If you want to work for a specific employer, this may dictate the type of program you need.
Since these options vary in terms of length and cost, also consider how much time you have to dedicate to your studies as well as looking at your budget. Both of these factors can influence which medical billing and coding program you decide is right for you.
Finally, consider whether you want a program that is available in person or online. If you’d prefer to take classes on campus, your options may be limited by programs available in your geographic area. Online medical billing and coding programs don’t have this restriction, potentially leaving you with more options.
UMA Offers Online Medical and Billing Coding Diploma and Associate Degree Programs
If you’d like to pursue a diploma or an associate degree, Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA) has two options. You can choose between our Medical Billing and Coding diploma and associate degree programs. Both online medical billing and coding programs provide the information needed to work in this role, covering topics such as medical terminology, diagnostic and procedural coding, healthcare communication, and medical records management. The associate degree program also includes general education courses.
Why earn your medical billing and coding diploma or degree at UMA? We pride ourselves on our high level of student support, not only while earning your diploma or associate degree, but even after graduation. We have teams that can assist with your studies, aid in your job search, and even potentially connect you with one of our employer partners.
If you have any questions or would like to talk about your healthcare education options, contact us today. We’d be glad to help you make the right decision for you by providing information on our programs.
In the meantime, check out these blogs to learn more about the medical billing and coding role:
How Much Can You Make Working as a Medical Biller and Coder?
Medical Billers and Coders: Jobs Expected to Increase
How to Become a Medical Biller and Coder
CPC vs CCS Certifications: What’s the Difference
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does UMA offer a medical billing and coding certificate? UMA does not currently offer an undergraduate certificate in medical billing and coding. Our medical billing and coding training options include a diploma or associate degree.
- Are there benefits to earning a medical billing and coding diploma or associate degree versus a medical billing and coding certificate? Yes! Medical billing and coding diploma and associate degree programs are often more comprehensive than certificate programs. So, if you’re interested in a medical billing and coding career, diploma and associate degree programs like those offered at UMA can help prepare you for this path.
- Do I have to go to a campus to take a medical coding and billing program? It depends on the educational institution. For example, both of UMA’s medical billing and coding programs are offered online. The benefits of taking online medical billing and coding courses include greater flexibility and convenience, along with the ability to learn online.
- How do I find medical billing and coding programs near me? If you’re interested in taking medical billing and coding training in person, check with local healthcare education institutions to see if they offer this type of program. You can also search for “medical billing and coding classes near me.” If no programs are available locally, online medical billing and coding programs are always an option and can prepare you to work in this type of role.