Biller and Coder – Scoping Out Your Next Credential: CCS-P vs. CPC

Whether your dream is to be a certified medical coder or to be more qualified one, there is often a “what credential should I be seeking next?” quandary going on in the coder’s mind. In this article, let’s look at factors to consider when choosing between the Certified Coding Specialist – Physician-Based (CCS-P) from AHIMA and the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) from AAPC.

Check out the Job Prospects

One important factor to consider is the job prospects in your locale. Search for jobs in your area and determine whether there is a difference between opportunities for CPC or CCS-P. Where do you want to work? Do those businesses favor one over the other? Does there seem to be better paying jobs for CPC or CCS-P? Depending on where you live, and what jobs are available for each credential, you may determine a direction as to where to place your focus.  However, whether you have a clear cut direction to follow at this point or not, there are other facts which it would be helpful to know regarding each credential. Let’s examine the similarities and differences.

Compare the Scope of CPC vs. CCS-P

Both the CPC and CCS-P credential are geared for coding for outpatient settings. Both require knowledge of ICD-9-CM (or ICD-10-CM when it becomes in effect), CPT, and HCPCS Level II. Both exams require knowledge of coding for E/M, surgery, anesthesia, radiology, and medicine procedures. Knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology is expected, as well as, medical coding guidelines and familiarity with regulations including compliance and reimbursement. The CCS-P exam also has some questions on topics such as health information documentation, data quality and measurement, information and communication technologies.

Biller and Coder – Scoping Out Your Next Credential: CCS-P vs. CPC

Consider Eligibility Requirements

One of the big differences between the CPC and the CCS-P is the eligibility requirements to take the exam. With CPC, you must be an AAPC member to register for the exam and pay the exam fee in order to take the exam. Of course, it is highly recommended that you adequately prepare for the exam! Passing the CPC exam will result in a CPC-A designation, where the A stands for Apprentice unless you have submitted (or later submit) proof of either 2 years’ experience coding OR completion of an 80 hour CPC preparatory course and 1 year experience.  Also, recently, AAPC has offered the AAPC Practicode CPC-A Practicum which allows an individual to meet 1 year of coding experience toward the removal of the apprentice designation.

The CCS-P exam works differently. You do not need to be a member of AHIMA to take the exam, but it will cost you more if you are not a member. For the CCS-P exam the applicant must meet specific eligibility requirements, and then, if the applicant passes the exam, they have earned the CCS-P certification. There is no such thing as an apprentice for the CCS-P.

What are the eligibility requirements for taking the CCS-P? There are many possible ways to become eligible, but by whatever method you qualify, it is important to note that you must attest that you fully meet the eligibility requirements and be prepared to prove eligibility, if audited. At this writing, some of the possible ways (choose one) of being eligible for the CCS-P are:

  • Currently hold the RHIA, RHIT, or CCS credential.
  • Successfully completed a coding training program that includes anatomy & physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, intermediate/advanced ICD diagnostic/procedural and CPT coding.
  • Completed a minimum of two (2) years of related coding experience directly applying codes.
  • Currently hold the CCA and have one (1) year of coding experience directly applying codes.
  • Currently hold another coding credential from other certifying organization and have one (1) year coding experience directly applying codes.

Of course, be sure to check with AAPC or AHIMA to verify eligibility prior to your exam, because changes in the rules are possible.

How do the Exams Differ?

The CPC exam is comprised of 150 multiple choice questions. Some questions are short and simple, and others require reading a long operative report.  Only the listed AAPC-approved editions of the ICD, CPT and HCPCS manuals may be used during the exam. The time allowed for the exam is 5 hours and 40 minutes. The CPC exam is administered in a proctored classroom setting where exam takers record their answers on a Scantron® sheet. The cost of the exam is $325 (AAPC students get a discount), and includes one retake.

According to the the AHIMA web site, the CCS-P exam is comprised of 109 multiple choice questions, though some of the questions are only being “tried out” by AHIMA, and are not scored. (The exam taker cannot tell which questions are in this category.) AHIMA lists the breakdown of questions as follows: 88 multiple choice (18 unscored), 8 multiple select, which have several answers (2 unscored), and 13 medical record cases which require fill-in the blank answers. On these medical record cases, the coder must, of course, supply the codes in the proper sequence.  Only the listed AHIMA-approved editions of the ICD, CPT and HCPCS manuals may be used during the exam.  The time allowed for the exam is 4 hours. The CCS-P exam is administered on a computer at a Pearson Vue test facility. The cost of the exam is $299 for AHIMA members, $399 for non-members. No retake is included.

So what’s the conclusion?

There are many factors to consider when choosing between the CPC and CCS-P credential. One of the important factors to consider would be the opportunities associated with each credential in your area where you would like to work.  This varies from place to place, so be sure to do this research.

In looking over the eligibility requirements, exam layout and topics covered, it is clear there are several noteworthy differences between the exams. It does appear that the CCS-P is somewhat more rigorous in that the eligibility requirements are more stringent, the exam questions cover some extra topics, and there are fill-in the blank questions, and not just multiple choice, as in the CPC exam. However, for many people the CPC will be a perfect fit as it will allow a quicker entry into the certified medical coding world, and will serve as a good foundation for future credentials, whether that includes getting a CCS-P certification or something else.

Which medical coding certification is better for you? No matter how you answer this question, be sure to adequately prepare to succeed in your endeavors.  Remember that CodingCertification.Org is here to help you learn it, get certified, and stay certified!

By: Ruth Sheets, CPC

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Changes to CCS, CCS-P Exam Eligibility for 2013


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2 thoughts on “Biller and Coder – Scoping Out Your Next Credential: CCS-P vs. CPC”

  1. Can someone tell me the difference between CPC-P and CPC-1I can’t seem to get information on the differences?
    Thank you,
    Tammy R.

    • The CPC-I is for Instructors only. The CPC-P proves proficiency and knowledge of coding guidelines and reimbursement methodologies for all types of services from the payer’s perspective.


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