Alphabet Soup

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Alphabet Soup

Medical coding certification is understandably a confusing and complex 'alphabet soup.' I'll give you the summary first, and then 'unpack' it for you below.

Certified Professional Coder - CPC (AAPC) - Highly Recommended

Certified Coding Specialist - CCS (AHIMA) Highly Recommended

Certified Coding Associate - CCA (AHIMA) Not Recommended; Not Preferred by Employers

SUMMARY:

Certified Professional Coder (CPC) through AAPC:

We recommend that our students sit for the CPC as soon as possible after finishing Module 3, which covers what is needed to do well on that exam. AAPC then gives you a CPC-A, the Apprentice Status, until you have worked 2 years OR have gone to a school that satisfies AAPC's requirement to remove ONE YEAR of that 2-year apprenticeship. One year of it has to come off after one year on-the-job coding experience.

Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) through AHIMA:

We recommend that our graduates sit for the CCS as soon as possible after finishing the entire course, the 4th module of which is entirely CCS-Prep. Now the CCS is the one that most courses don't qualify students to sit for until they have a couple of years of experience. Schools that teach at this professional CCS level are rare. We teach it successfully. We have many graduates who hold this credential.

Certified Coding Specialist (CCA) through AHIMA:

NONE of our graduates has ever taken the CCA to my knowledge, and we DO NOT recommend it. It is not a marketable credential according to the employers I've spoken with, and those I've spoken with will not consider hiring a CCA.

Several employers have used the same words to describe why. "We will not hire graduates with a CCA because we don't have time to teach them to code. We are not a school. We have too much work to do to have to teach them to code." When I ask about the CCS, they say, "Oh, the CCS? We'd have to take a look at them." In other words, if they have someone with a CCS and years of experience, they will get hired first, but the CCS with no experience will be considered if they test well on the employment test and have a good attitude/personality in the interview.

THE 'UNPACKING' OF ALL THESE INITIALS

Recommended AAPC Credentials:

Certified Professional Coder (CPC)

This is outpatient coding, for hospital outpatient services, physician offices, insurance companies, as in cardiology clinics, orthopedic clinics, etc.

Recommended AHIMA Credentials:

Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)

This is inpatient coding, for hospitals, etc. Employers often don't believe you can sit for and pass it right out of school. Our graduates can and do.

NOT-Recommended AHIMA Credential:

Certified Coding Associate (CCA)

Not preferred by employers we have talked to.

Excruciatingly Detailed, but Informative Description of CPC, CCS, and CCA Credentials From the AHIMA and AAPC Web Sites

AHIMA

AHIMA has several credentials, including the one that our graduates never take, the one employers have told us that they do not prefer, the Certified Coding Associate (CCA).

Certified Coding Associate (CCA)

Eligibility Requirements

Required:

  • High School Diploma or equivalent

AHIMA also has a credential that we highly recommend for our graduates, the Certified Coding Specialist (CCS):

Certified Coding Specialist (CCS)

Eligibility

NOTE: See 'By Education' which is the requirement almost all coding courses fail to satisfy. Andrews School does satisfy those requirements.

CCS - Eligibility FAQ Document

Candidates must meet one of the following eligibility requirements:

  • By Credential: RHIA, RHIT, or CCS-P OR
  • By Education: Completion of a coding training program that includes anatomy & physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, reimbursement methodology, intermediate/advanced ICD diagnostic/procedural and CPT coding; OR
  • By Experience: Minimum of two (2) years of related coding experience directly applying codes; OR
  • By Credential with Experience: CCA plus one (1) year of coding experience directly applying codes; OR
  • Other Coding credential from other certifying organization plus one (1) year coding experience directly applying codes.

As you can see, the CPC has not been mentioned at all, because it's from another completely separate professional organization focused on OUTPATIENT CODING. We'll talk about it in the next section.

A PROBLEM TO AVOID BY GETTING THOROUGH TRAINING FROM THE BEGINNING:

Please note that someone going to a school that doesn't satisfy CCS requirements can get a CCA and then take the CCS after one year of experience.

That's a problem. How will they get a job so they can get that experience?

Let's say they know someone's brother-in-law and get a job. They are given a desk and maybe specialty or sub-specialty coding where they are only trusted, as a CCA, to do very minimal coding.

One year later they have put in their time and are eligible to sit for the CCS, but the failure rate for CCAs with 1 year of experience is extremely high. They weren't prepared for it by education and didn't learn what they needed on the job either. That's a problem you can avoid by getting thorough training from the start.

AAPC

So let's now move to the AAPC and talk about their CPC certification, one we highly recommend:

Certified Professional Coder (CPC)

Medical Coding Certification Requirements

  1. We recommend having an associate's degree. (Recommended, Not Required)
  2. Pay examination fee at the time of application submission.
  3. Maintain current membership with the AAPC.
  4. New members must submit membership payment with examination application.
  5. Renewing members must have a current membership at the time of submission and when exam results are released.
  6. All exams will be reported with exact scores and areas of study (65% or less).

A CPC must have at least two years medical coding experience (member's with an apprentice designation are not required to have two years medical coding experience.) Membership is required to be renewed annually and 36 Continuing Education Units (CEU's) must be submitted every two years for verification and authentication of expertise.

NOTE: You do not have to have two years of medical coding experience to take the CPC exam. If you don't have that experience, you simply have an 'A' after the CPC to designate 'Apprentice' until you have the 2 years of experience. One year of that can be removed by a letter verifying your Andrews certificate of completion.

---(More details about getting that Apprentice 'A' label off your CPC, information that most of you will wait until later to read.)

Requirements for Removal of Apprentice Designation:

To remove your apprentice designation via on-the-job experience, you must obtain and submit two letters of recommendation verifying at least two years of on-the-job experience (externships accepted) using the CPT, ICD-9-CM, or HCPCS Level II code sets. One letter must be on letterhead from your employer*, the other may be from a co-worker. Experience includes time coding for a previous employer and prior to certification. Both letters are required to be signed and will need to outline your coding experience and amount of time in that capacity. Download our Apprentice Removal Template for easier submission. Letterhead and signatures are still required when using this template.

OR

Submit proof showing completion of at least 80 contact hours of a coding preparation course (not CEUs) AND one letter, on letterhead, signed from your employer verifying one year of on-the-job experience (externships accepted) using the CPT, ICD-9-CM, or HCPCS Level II code sets.

Send proof of education in the form of a letter from an instructor on school letterhead stating you have completed 80 or more contact hours, a certificate/diploma stating at least 80 contact hours, or an unofficial school transcript.

Proof of education or experience isn't necessary to sit for the exam. It should only be submitted (via fax or as a scanned attachment to an email) once ALL apprentice removal requirements have been met.