Medical Coding and Billing in Montana

In decades past, medical billing and coding was a straightforward paraprofessional position that often required only on the job training. The field has become more rigorous in recent years. Why? Part of the reason is that medicine itself is advancing. Not only are there far more procedures and treatments to code, but procedures are more likely to be combined or performed simultaneously; combined cardiac and peripheral artery surgery is but one small example.

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Medical coding, furthermore, is not a simple process of attaching an alphanumeric code to a diagnosis. The coding specialist has to have a foundation in medicine to abstract the important information from charts. For this reason, doctors often prefer medical coders who have specialized in their particular field, whether it is obstetrics, cardiology, or neurology.

Access to health care is also increasing, and with this change comes policy and paperwork. Due to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the AAPC, one of the nation’s two largest certifying bodies, will offer a new credential in 2011: Certified Professional Compliance Officer.

How do you prepare for this career path? Start with a formal education in either health informatics or a medical billing and coding program.

Medical Billing and Coding Training in Montana

Programs in medical billing and coding include introductory medicine courses like physiology, disease pathology, and medical terminology. They also introduce major coding taxonomies, privacy laws and other health-related law and ethics issues, in addition to policies of governmental agencies and third party payers. Common, too, are courses in computer software and applications. Some programs in medical billing and coding are integrated within accredited health information degree programs.

Montana’s prospective medical billing and coding specialists should be aware that their schooling options extend beyond Montana’s wide borders. Many programs, including degree-granting ones, are offered online. Choice of program depends on long term goals, as different programs will prepare a student for different levels of credentialing.

State licensing is not required for medical billing and coding, as they are not clinical positions. Still, jobs for medical coding specialists may require CPC or CSS credentialing. CPC standards for Certified Professional Coder and is granted through the national organization, AAPC. CCS stands for Certified Coding Specialist and is granted through AHIMA. Positions in medical billing are less likely to require this credentialing, particularly if a person has experience in related fields. Education and certification, though, can help most anyone advance to higher levels.

Medical Billing and Coding Salary and Job outlook in Montana

One way to get a sense of career opportunities and requirements is to do a scan of job postings. St Patrick Hospital in Missoula would be considered a very desirable employer. The job posting lists a minimum/ beginning salary of $16.65 an hour and a salary maximum of $27.14. The employer prefers one to two years medical coding experience in a similar setting. as well as knowledge commonly found in medical billing and coding courses (terminology, disease progression etc.) Skills include strong communication and people skills as well as field-specific competencies.

The first position is often the hardest to obtain. Across the nation, people may rely on field connections. Sometimes this means taking a lesser position in a desirable setting. Other times, it means networking with other professionals through AAPC. A person’s schooling can also be very valuable in this regard. Educational opportunities often include externships or practicum experiences which place students into the field.

An experienced medical coding specialist can expect to earn good wages. A national survey of 10,000 medical billing and coding specialists carried out by the AAPC in 2009 reported an average of $35,933 for Montana. Nationwide, some positions pay much more than others. Not surprisingly, consultants make the most, though this is a job that requires travel and may take years to attain. Governmental agencies, insurance companies, and other payers also offer compensation that is above the industry average. Hospitals pay more than physicians’ offices, but are a harder market to break into.

Find a school that matches your career goals and your current situation as a first step toward a career as a medical billing and coding specialist in Montana. With the size of the state and the number of citizens in rural areas of Montana, an online medical billing and coding program can be the most convenient option.

You may also want to check out the Medical Assisting programs in Montana. Medical assisting also has positive growth projections in Montana and is a good way to get your foot in the door of the health care field.

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