According to yearly surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the American Association of Professional Coders (AAPC), the average salary for all medical billers and coders in the U.S. continued to rise from 2010 to 2011 despite a slumping national economy. However, this increase in salary was not equally distributed and data shows that key factors like geography, workplace, certification type and experience influenced both the average salary for medical billing and coding professionals as well as the rate at which these salaries increased.
For 2011, the average medical billing and coding salary for the entire profession was nearly $36,000 or $17.27 per hour. However, the mean annual income for the lowest 10% of income earners was $21,680, while top salaries for medical billing and coding in the highest 10% were over two and a half times higher at over $55,000 per year.
Workplaces with the Highest Salaries
The industry’s two biggest employers, doctor’s offices and hospitals, provide some of the worst and best medical billing and coding salaries in the country. Employing over a third of all medical billing and coding professionals in the U.S., hospitals offered an average annual salary of nearly $38,000, which is approximately $2,000 higher than the mean income for the whole profession.
By contrast, doctor’s offices, which represent the second largest employer of medical billing and coding specialists in the U.S., paid just over $30,000 per year on average. Earning about $14.50 per hour, medical billers and coders who work in doctor’s offices earned roughly $6,000 below the national average.
Although representing only a fraction of total employment in the profession, the federal government together with medical research and development centers offered the industry’s top medical billing and coding pay at around $46,000 annually or about $10,000 above the national average.
Regional Salaries in the U.S.
As with most professions, medical billing salaries and medical coding salaries vary significantly depending on the region, state and even city in which a biller and coder works. While these geographical differences in income are often directly connected to local costs of living, certain places simply have a higher demand for billers and coders which means that employers are ready to pay a higher salary for medical billing and coding experts.
In general, the West Coast and the Northeast regions of the U.S. offer the best pay, with average annual incomes ranging anywhere from $36,000 to $52,000 in states like California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Not surprisingly, however, these are also among the most densely populated states in the country and are known for their high costs of living.
There are several exceptions to this rule however. Less densely populated states with lower costs of living like Alaska and Colorado also top the list for having a high average medical billing and medical coding salary thanks to a scarcity of professionals.
States with the lowest average salary for medical billing and coding specialists were largely concentrated in the southern U.S. where the overall standard of living is significantly below the national average. Medical billing and coding professionals in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia, for instance, earn on average between $22,500 and $32,000 per year.
Increasing Your Salary Once You Become a Medical Biller and Coder
If you enter the profession with no credentials or nothing more than an online medical coding certificate, there are a number of ways to increase your income above your starting salary. Aside from simply moving to a higher-paying region, the best ways to increase pay are through experience, education and specialization.
For starters, most employees are likely to offer pay raises to medical biller and coders who demonstrate strong technical skills, efficiency and reliability in order to retain their best employees. For this reason, it can pay to stick with a good employer for several years rather than jumping from one job to the next in search of better pay.
Nonetheless, entry-level professionals with only the most basic certification may find that they reach their maximum earning potential fairly quickly. For experienced medical billing and coding professionals the way to earn more is to learn more, and there are several types of advanced specialty certifications that can make them more valuable to employers and bump them into the next pay scale.
Advanced specialty certifications are typically earned through national professional associations like the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the Board of Medical Specialty Coding and Compliance (BMSC), the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHC) and the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA). Advanced certifications typically teach specific skills that are not covered in basic certification courses, and this online training is followed by a certification exam. A few examples of advanced certifications that medical billers and coders can earn are Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT), Certified Coding Specialist (CCS), Certified Interventional Radiology Cardiovascular Coder (CIRCC) or Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR).
Finally, billers and coders who are interested in moving up the professional ladder and earning more than the standard salary can take an even larger educational step and enroll in a bachelor’s degree program for healthcare administration. A bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration prepares students for managerial roles in the healthcare industry, and graduates enjoy an average starting salary that is more than $10,000 a year higher than the average medical coding or medical billing salary. In addition, they have many more opportunities for advancing into different positions and taking on greater responsibility.
The technical knowledge and skills that experienced billers and coders gain through years of working also play a significant role in healthcare administration. In fact, students who already hold an associates in medical billing and coding are often able to count prior coursework toward their bachelor’s degree, making it possible to complete the program in as little as 2 years.