Do I Need an Associate’s Degree to Become a Medical Coder?

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Laureen: Yup. Anything you wanted to add on any of these questions, Lori?

Lori: I do think AAPC scares a lot of people with their “you must have an associate’s degree“. They put that on almost all of the credentials. “We recommend that you have an associate’s degree.

Laureen: They recommend.

Lori: Yeah. It’s recommended, but a lot of people are like, “Oh, do I have to have that? Or don’t I have to have that?”

Laureen: No, you don’t. You know, sometimes we have to read it literally. It’s a recommendation. It’s not a requirement. And we’re here to tell you, many of our students, I would probably say 80+ percent don’t have an advanced degree. Now, would it help you? Would it make your resume go to the top of the list compared to other coders if you did? Yeah, of course, but not always. Not always. I mean, look at our Chandra,  she doesn’t and she’s got a gazillion-million credentials. She’s uber smart on all of this stuff. Anybody would be fortunate to hire her. You got to go with what works for you. If that is important to you and that means a lot to you, then go ahead and do that.

I used to teach for Drexel University in Philadelphia, face-to-face class. I worked with the director there and they developed these courses that I put together – the medical terminology, the billing course, the coding course. We had a whole bunch and we made it into an associate’s degree. That was the first associate’s degree that was offered in the country. That was pretty exciting. They’re still doing it and it’s going great. So, there are schools now that are offering degrees with it, but it’s not a requirement for sitting for a certification exam.

I have been schooled by a YouTube commenter that for years I called it board exam, board exam, board exam. It’s not a board exam. It’s a certification exam. When I took my OT board exam, that was a board exam. It has to do with licensure, and there is a difference. So these are certification exams. There are also national certifications and they’re not state license exams. Now, that being said, there is one state in the whole country that requires coders to be certified. Technically, people can do medical coding now. They do not have to be certified. But most employers require certification and if they’ve hired someone and trained them and turned them into a coder but they’re not certified, they normally end up requesting that they get their certification. That one state is… do you know, Lori?

Lori: Is it Hawaii?

Laureen: Yes. Hawaii, yes.

Lori: It is.

Laureen: Yeah. So Hawaii is the only state where you have to be certified in order to do coding. The way I understand it is because state licensure has to do with protecting consumers. When I was an occupational therapist, I had to be licensed in New Jersey and if I wanted to work in Pennsylvania, I had to be licensed in Pennsylvania. Because we can do harm to patients. We could break their arm, we could be doing range of motion wrong.

But as coders, can we do harm to the consumer? My opinion is yeah, we can. Because I’ve had it happen to me. I had complicated migraines and the doctor was trying to rule out MS and so he wrote “migraine versus MS.” Well, the coder coded me as having multiple sclerosis, and I didn’t have it. When I tried to get life insurance or whatever, I kept getting denied or whatever. So I’m like, “What is going on?” When I looked at it, I’m like, “I don’t have MS.” So, did that coder harm me? Yeah! But not in breaking my arm but, you know, you can do harm by not coding properly. Picture someone getting a diagnosis of AIDS if they don’t have it.

Lori: Yeah. That’s the one I was thinking of. One you have to be really careful with.

Laureen: So we’ll see if that catches on. I mean, it’s been a long time. I’ve been doing this since 2000 and heard “oh, it’s coming, it’s coming.” I really thought it was going to be like right around the corner. Now I’m kind of realizing with healthcare, yeah, things don’t happen that fast. But ICD-10 did eventually come. It only took 17 years of me hearing that it was coming. But, at any rate.

Lori: Now they’re talking about 11.

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