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Medical Coding and Billing in California

Longview, California will be the site of the 2011 AAPC National Conference, and a wonderful opportunity for those involved in the medical billing and coding profession. Medical billing and coding is indeed a profession. Many people think of it as a clerical field or one that a person enters after a short certificate program. While people occasionally receive training on the job, medical billing and coding is becoming a field for highly educated individuals. Medical coders have to master extensive health-related knowledge which includes anatomy, pharmacology, and disease pathology. This allows them to read documentation and correctly assign codes for reimbursement or research purposes. Medical billing and coding experts also need a thorough understanding of medical laws and Medicare regulations. It is not uncommon for a medical billing and coding specialist to be expected to educate the physicians he or she works with on issues related to documentation.

Medical billing and coding specialists are regularly asked to abstract medical data. It is not always clear what codes and modifiers to assign. Sometimes people have multiple diagnoses or see more than one person in a visit, and some procedures blur the line between preventative and acute care. No one codes with 100% accuracy, but having high accuracy is a crucial part of breaking into, and succeeding within, this important field.

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Medical Billing and Coding Training in California

Because medical billing and coding specialists in California do not work directly with patients, the industry is not state-regulated. California’s employers, though, set standards high. Education, certification, and experience all signal to employers that one has what it takes to be successful within the medical billing and coding profession. Job postings often ask for certifications through AACP and/or AHIMA. They may also ask for education at the associates level or higher. Education should provide a solid grasp of anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and applicable laws as well as teach the principles of coding taxonomies. A sampling of accredited programs that meet these requirements are listed below.

The Roman numerals I, II, and III are sometimes used in job postings to denote the level of training and experience necessary to perform medical billing and coding job functions. There are opportunities right now to break into the medical billing and coding field in California. Many, but not all, of the state’s most desirable employers, like Laguna Honda Hospital, L.A. County Hospital, USC Medical Center, Community Regional Medical Center and Huntington Hospital seek new hires with previous experience. Del Amo Hospital and CA Prison Health Care are among those who did not set minimum years of experience when placing job posts in late 2010. Prisons, it should be noted, can be a slightly easier market for field entry. As for Del Amo, they list an associates degree among their preferred qualifications. Their ideal candidate has credentialing through AHIMA and is able to sit for exams through AACP within one year. In other words, the organization places a high value on both education and credentialing.

Medical Billing and Coding Salary and Job outlook in California

California’s medical coders enjoy the highest wages in the nation, according to a nationwide survey of more than 10,000 workers, conducted in the summer of 2009. Average earnings are reported as $54,175 for the northern part of the state and $52,783 for the southern. Of course, it takes some time to work up to positions like this. The same AAPC study found that medical billing and coding specialists who had been in the field over 20 years were making more than $20,000 a year more than those who had been working two years. It’s not just the benefit of those added years of experience. Workers with higher levels of education and certification earn more. The study reported $38,129 nationwide for those whose highest educational achievement was technical school, but $66,137 for those with a master’s. The BLS, meanwhile, reports especially high salaries for the San Jose and San Francisco metropolitan regions. Other areas of the state that see higher wages include Los Angeles and San Diego.

Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, L.A. County & USC Medical Center in Los Angeles and Huntington Hospital in Pasadena are large employers in California's health care sector and employ the critical services medical billing and coding specialists provide. they may use outside agencies or have their own in-house coding and billing department. These are places to start a medical billing and coding job search as well as a place to research what employers prefer or require in the way of experience and education.

Once a person does prove themselves as a medical billing and coding specialist, doors open. Some people search for higher salaries, others for flexibility. Codebusters, a California-based placement agency reports that they place people in remote coding positions as well as well as on-site in California, but that they prefer to hire experienced medical biller and coders.

Medical Assistant programs in California are also a popular path for those interested in entering the allied health field. These programs are often of much shorter duration with students completing their training in 6 to 12 months.

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