What Is the Impact of Certification on a Coder’s Salary?

There’s a lot of interest in various certifications, but a fair amount of skepticism behind them as well. While research and studies paint a pretty picture of the profession, there are medical coders who say “show me the money” as a response. These people firmly believe that time is money and a fair amount of time will be spent in preparing for certification exams; the end result of which must justify all the hard work. Because of this, it is reasonable to ask the question: how will certification impact my salary? In other words, will a coder gain material advance if he or she becomes certified, and will this advancement out-weigh the costs – both time and money – of taking and passing the exam?

What Do the Numbers Say?

The AAPC conducted a salary survey in 2010 (update: see 2012 survey results here) to determine the impact of certification on compensation. The conclusions drawn from the data support the argument that those with the right certification make more than those who do not. This seems to be supported no matter which certification is achieved, and the difference between a certified and non-certified coder’s earnings can be as much as 12%. Of those credentialed, salaries range from $47,796 to $59,365 and average out at $48,033 (at least for those with AAPC credentials). This doesn’t come as a surprise considering that successful completion of the exam requires a firm command of terminology, procedure, and of course medical codes. This is not to say that a non-certified professional lacks knowledge of codes or practices; however, certification is firm proof that a person knows the information and an employer need not worry.

It is essential to understand that compensation isn’t playing favorites unfairly. The healthcare industry is increasing in sophistication and both treatment and diagnosis are becoming more and more complex. Employers need well-informed medical coders and will gladly pay a premium for them. The monetary reward is based on the knowledge achieved and evidence that such knowledge is part of an individual’s skill set. As a result, it is not uncommon for an employer to grant an incentive for an individual to gain certification. Further, depending on the health care facility’s compensation policy, an immediate pay raise might be realized once an employee provides evidence of an additional credential.

Experience vs. Certification

Compensation theory is a highly nuanced management practice. Employers do credit experience – salary figures range from the lower $30,000′s to the lower $60,000′s, based on experience ranging from 0 to 15+ years of working in the profession. A non-certified medical coder with more years of experience can potentially make more money than a certified professional who has less. Similarly, there is evidence that certification can be exchanged for years of experience in a compensation scheme as well. For instance, an entry-level coder with certification may be credited with one or two years of experience when it comes to determining the salary offer, which is reason enough for anyone to seriously consider taking the courses necessary to prepare for a certification exam.

Rewarding an individual for achieving certification is part of the evolution of medical coding as a profession. It was mentioned earlier that health care is becoming more sophisticated, and medical coders have to stay current in order to successfully contribute. Paying a certified employee more is a means of creating an atmosphere where continuing education is part of a person’s career path. Non-certified medical coders can still make a decent living, but they will have to be content with watching their certified colleagues advance. It may seem unfair to some, but that’s just the marketplace. As with many professions, employers pay more for increased levels of skill and knowledge.

Getting Certified

Fortunately, non-certified coders can take the steps necessary to become certified, and there are numerous opportunities to do so. Both the AAPC and the American Health Information Management Association have course offerings and practice examinations on their website, all of which are intended to help a person achieve certification. Medical coders should take advantage of these, if for no other reason than to earn a larger paycheck.

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