In Healthcare Today

The UMA Blog covers information at the intersection of healthcare, education and employment. Our contributors are intimately familiar with a wide range of subjects covering professional development, career advancement, workplace politics, healthcare industry specific topics, personal finance, and education.

How Much Does a Medical Coder Make?

In: Uncategorized

If you’re considering a career in this field, you’re likely wondering about the typical medical coder salary. How much does a medical coder make?


As the population of the United States continues to age, the healthcare field is experiencing a growing demand for qualified workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment across the healthcare industry could increase 18% by 2026, which is much faster than the average for other occupational groups. This translates to an additional 2.4 million jobs over a 10-year period.


More patients need more care, which in turn means more health records. Managing this data is a critical administrative function that requires trained workers such as medical coders, who apply standard codes to each diagnosis, procedure, and treatment.


What to Expect from a Medical Coder Salary


While the BLS does not currently feature medical coders among the detailed career listings in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, it does include the broader category of medical secretaries. The BLS outlines median and average medical secretary salaries, as well as breakdowns by industry and location, in its Occupational Employment and Wages overview.


Though coders who attain industry certification are capable of earning higher salaries (more on that later), the BLS data provides a general overview of what medical coders and other types of medical secretaries typically earn.


As of May 2017, the mean (average) medical secretary/medical coder salary was $35,870 per year. The median annual wage was $34,610, which means half of these workers earned less than that and half earned more. The top 10% earned over $50,340.


How Much Does a Medical Coder Make Per Month or Per Hour?

If you work as a medical coder and earn the average $35,870 salary, you would make about $2,989 per month before taxes. That translates to $17.25 per hour.


Your take-home pay depends on your:


  • Salary
  • Federal income tax bracket
  • State tax rate
  • Benefits and deductions


Your base salary can vary depending on where you live and the industry in which you work.


States That Pay the Highest Medical Coder Wages

Medical secretaries living in the nation’s capital have the highest average salaries; three northeastern states and Alaska round out the top five in the BLS list of top-paying states in this field:


  1. District of Columbia – $46,420
  2. Massachusetts – $43,030
  3. Connecticut – $42,630
  4. Alaska – $42,240
  5. New Jersey – $41,830


Cities Where Medical Coders Make the Most Money

The top metropolitan areas for medical secretary salaries aren’t necessarily in the best-paying states. Only two of the top 10 metro areas are in the highest-paying states, while the remaining eight are all in California. Based on BLS annual mean wage data, medical secretaries earn the highest average salaries in:


  1. San Francisco/Redwood City, CA – $50,580
  2. San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, CA – $50,020
  3. New Haven, CT – $47,390
  4. Vallejo/Fairfield, CA – $47,340
  5. Salinas, CA – $46,930
  6. San Luis Obispo/Paso Robles/Arroyo Grande, CA – $46,210
  7. Fairbanks, AK – $45,910
  8. San Rafael, CA – $45,830
  9. Napa, CA – $45,760
  • Santa Rosa, CA – $45,630


Impact of Certification on the Average Medical Coder Salary

The BLS occupational employment statistics are helpful for getting idea of what all types of medical secretaries earn. However, if you attain certification from a major industry organization, such as the AAPC (previously known as the American Academy of Professional Coders), you could potentially earn even more.


According to the 2017 AAPC Salary Survey, specialists who have achieved the Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) designation earn an average annual salary of $54,051. However, even for a certified medical coder, salary can vary greatly depending on experience. If you’re just starting out, it can take years before you reach the CPC average.


Across all AAPC credentials (including CPC as well as expert-, manager-, and officer-level certifications), the average earnings range from $38,011 for zero to one year of experience and progressively increase up to $71,506 for those with 31 or more years of experience.


How Do Medical Coder Salaries Compare to Other Administrative Jobs?

Returning to the BLS data, which includes both certified and non-certified workers, you’ll find that the median medical secretary/coder salary is basically in line with other healthcare administrative positions.


Medical records and health information technicians, or simply health information technicians, use various classification and computer systems to make sure health data is organized, accurate, and secure. This position has a national median salary of $39,180 per year.


Medical transcriptionists listen to voice recordings made by healthcare providers and transcribe that information into written form using a computer. They then use their typed notes to create written reports. These workers may also review transcripts created with speech-recognition technologies and manually apply any necessary corrections. A medical transcriptionist earns a median annual salary of $35,250.


Other medical administrative assistants, including receptionists and schedulers, would be included in the medical secretaries category.


Now that you have an idea of the average medical coder salary, you may be interested in learning more about what the job entails.


What Is Medical Coding?

Medical coding is an administrative process that involves converting medical information into universal medical alphanumeric codes.


These codes are applied to multiple types of data, including:


  • Diagnoses
  • Procedures and treatments
  • Medical equipment


The coder gets this data from physicians’ notes, test results, and other medical record documentation.


Medical coders typically use three basic classification systems: Current Procedural Terminology (CPT), Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS), and ICD-10, which stands for the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision.


The code systems are a form of communication that allows healthcare providers to accurately bill patients and their insurance companies for services provided. Medical billers then take the information provided by coders and use it to create invoices and send them on to the correct payer.


Some organizations combine the role of medical coder and biller, with one person performing both tasks. If the functions remain separate, the two positions will work together to ensure billing is accurate and to avoid rejected claims.


What Do Medical Coders Do?

Medical coders spend most of their time reading, writing, and reviewing healthcare documentation with three primary tools: patient notes and files, code books, and medical record and/or billing software.


The type of notes and records they work with may depend on the setting in which they are employed, such as a hospital, clinic, or outpatient facility. Medical coders might be assigned to work with a specific department. For example, a large university hospital might use a team of coders to work exclusively with the cardiology unit. Smaller offices and private practices often have one team—or sometimes one individual—responsible for coding every patient interaction, from annual exams to injuries and illnesses.


Every morning, medical coders will usually have a stack of records to work through. While reviewing the patient’s documents, they can find pertinent information to assist in their coding and data entry:


  • Medical diagnoses
  • Procedures
  • Treatments
  • Physician name
  • Date of visit or procedure
  • Other relevant information


They then use all that information to assign applicable codes, which help translate the patient’s unique medical file into something universal and sharable.


Once they complete a chart, they will move on to the next one.


Is Medical Coding Difficult?

In most cases, coders are able to quickly identify the relevant codes because they encounter many common diagnoses and procedures in the course of their daily work, whether it’s an annual checkup or a case of the flu. Their knowledge of medical terminology and understanding of how to use the codebooks make the process a straightforward one.


However, not all cases are simple, so coders also need to have the research skills required to deal with the gray areas that exist in medicine. Unusual or complicated cases may not fit neatly into the existing coding guidelines.


Medical coders also typically work according to a production schedule. They are often expected to complete a specific number of files within a set timeframe to make sure they meet organizational and insurance requirements. Typically, healthcare facilities want to have the records coded and claims submitted within two to five days after a patient’s visit.


Although coders often work independently, they may also interact with other staff including fellow coders, billing specialists, administrative staff, and medical personnel. They are also likely to have their work audited on a regular basis to ensure their records are accurate, complete, and compliant with standards.


How to Become a Medical Coder

Medical coders typically have relevant training and certification to help them excel at their work. There’s little room for mistakes in coding: the wrong code followed by an incorrect bill can result in unpaid insurance claims.


While some workers may enter the field with just a high-school diploma and on-the-job training, most complete some type of formal education, such as a medical billing and coding diploma or associate degree program. A diploma usually takes less than a year to complete, while an associate degree may run closer to two years. Students can also choose between on-campus classes or online courses.


Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have industry certification, such as the CPC credential. Accordingly, many diploma and degree programs include courses that are designed to help students prepare for their certification exam.


Full CPC status requires two years of on-the-job-experience or 80 contact hours of a coding preparation course and one year of experience. New graduates who pass the exam will be designated as a CPC Apprentice (CPC-A) until they have completed the requisite experience.


Once you graduate and pursue a position, you can leverage your training and certification to hopefully land a position as a medical coder.


Is a Career as a Medical Coder Right for You?

Medical coders and billers are an essential part of a healthcare facility’s administrative team. As the healthcare industry continues to grow, the job outlook suggests demand for medical coders will increase along with it. And based on past BLS occupation profiles, the average medical secretary/medical coder salary is also likely to rise.


With a diploma or associate degree and certification in hand, you can be well positioned to pursue entry-level positions in this dynamic field.


Are you ready to start your career in medical coding? Learn more about beginning the next phase of your career or request information by visiting the Future Students section of the UMA website.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ultimate Medical Academy.