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By now you’ve probably seen at least a dozen “Make Great Money at Home” ads for medical billing and coding. Hopefully you haven’t fallen for any of them. For those who are serious about a career in either of these fields, you should know that like any true profession, there is no get-rich-quick solution. However, the ads do contain at least one truism; medical practices are looking for quality billers and coders.

Medical practices rely on the individuals they hire for billing and coding to manage their financial well being. A physicians group is not going to hire someone with little or no experience and a diploma from some Internet mill. Far too much is at stake for them. A coder must submit their work to the insurance companies in accordance with the current laws. The penalties for incorrect filings could range from fines all the way to jail time. Not to mention exclusion from state and federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Let’s start by identifying the differences between a medical coder and a biller. The coder is responsible for assigning numeric codes to the diagnoses and procedures found on the medical charts submitted to them. Coders are required to have a high degree of familiarity with the regulations and guidelines for applications of codes as well as a strong background in medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and disease. Medical coders are in high demand because of the constant, high degree of education involved. Coders typically start their careers in hospitals or clinics, research facilities, laboratories or insurance companies. Some coders do work from home, but that’s usually about four to six years down the road. Most employers will only hire coders with at least one of the two predominant coding certifications; either the CPC (Certified Professional Coder) or the CCS (Certified Coding Specialist).

Next is the medical biller. This individual receives the claims from the coder and is responsible for filing the claims with the insurance companies. They are also involved in posting payments, discussing options for payment for those patients without insurance and solving issues of claims denied by an insurance company.

To become a coder or biller, you need to acquire an education from an accredited school. Do some research on your local community colleges. Many of them offer certification in both of these fields and best of all, offer placement assistance after graduation. There are online courses also available; however many are not accredited and won’t impress too many potential employers so be careful when choosing a school. One spot to check to ensure a program is accredited is the AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association) web site. They keep a current list of the approved colleges that offer distance education courses.

Once you’ve received your education and credentials, you’ll need to get some experience. How are you supposed to get experience in your newly chosen profession when employers are only hiring billers and coders with experience? You’ve got a head start if you received your certification through a college with placement assistance. But to be proactive, you should investigate registering with an employment agency. You may not jump right into the job of your dreams, so use the each opportunity to gain as much experience as possible. Remember to network. A great way to network is to volunteer your services at a local free clinic. Most of the patients use state and federal programs, which will give you great experience.

If this is the road you choose, do it right. Get the best education you can and gain as much experience as fast as you can.

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