The absolute average salary for medical coders is somewhere in the low to mid $40,000 range. Nation-wide (according to the AAPC Salary Survey of 2011) the average coder made a few thousand dollars more than $40,000 per year however this varies by geographic region and by type of coder.
On the west coast a medical coder makes more. A California medical coder for instance makes approximately $57,000 annually. The entire west coast coders on average make in the mid-$50,000.
On the other end of the spectrum however medical coders in the state of Kentucky only make on average around $37,000 annually and coders in the inland south on the whole make on average under $40,000.
The other main differential between high paid coders and low paid coders is their certification level. Those coders who held CPC certifications made on average around $46,000 per year compared to around $40,000 per year for non-CPC certification holders or CPC-A holders. The difference is about 15% more pay for holders of certifications.
Furthermore specialty certifications tend to get paid more than standard CPCs. For instance the highest paid Medical Coders tend to hold specialty certifications in addition to the CPC designation. The CPC-H is the hospital specialty certification and it tended to increase average salaries and pay ranges even further.
According to the survey it’s clear that experience matters regardless of certification level. Those working in the field for more 5-10 years or more tend to command pay much higher than those starting out but as experience grows in those who hold specialty certifications medical coders quickly start earning more than average levels of pay.
Another group of medical coders that made more than the others were those medical coders who worked for large medical/physician groups. The difference isn’t as great as the differences between regions but large medical groups tended to pay coders 7-8% more on average than small physician groups.
As for hospital coders the medical coders working in inpatient facilities were paid more on average than those in outpatient facilities by approximately 9%.
So how much money can you make as a medical coder? It completely depends but I can tell you this: If I were just starting a career in medical coding I would consider all the averages and trends and position myself to be the most likely candidate for high pay.
How To Make The Most Money As A Medical Coder
I would take the CPC exam and obtain my CPC certification. If necessary I would work for two years as a CPC-A (apprentice) to build up some experience and get the full certification.
I would then take the CPC-H exam to obtain my Certified Professional Coder-Hospital Outpatient certification. To get this certification you have to have at least two years of experience under your belt as a CPC or a CPC-A.
While working in my first two years as a CPC-A I would work on the west-coast for a large physician group or outpatient medical facility. Upon testing for my CPC-H certification I would then try to find employment in a large hospital inpatient/outpatient facility as they tend to pay better than smaller groups or non-hospital facilities.
There are always outliers and special circumstances but on average a specialized certification (CPC-H) working for a large inpatient hospital group/facility on the west coast will pay the most. From then everything is likely going to be based upon performance.
Certified Medical Coders tend to make more money when their skills actually save the physician group money. A good medical coder will perform better and will save money so you have to demonstrate your ability to save your employer money in their billing department.
During your first few years documenting and proving your valuable contribution to the group via cost savings and efficiencies is the best way to make it into the upper echelon of the medical coder pay scale.
Further advancements can also pad income but they are not for everyone. Moving into auditing and educating are additional ways to increase your salary but the position may not be for you. However acquiring the skills and certifications to reach the highest pay will also open doors for you in these areas should you choose to go that route.
On average a CPC with a CPC-H designation earns on average in the mid-$50,000 range. Instructors on the other hand, those with CPC-I designations can easily make $20,000 a year more than that. To get there though you have to be dedicated from the very beginning to achieving these higher paying positions and working at it deliberately to get there.
Make sure to take a CPC certification practice exam before taking the real test. Practice tests will help you pass on your first try.
Click here to see the practice exams or to view the additional CPC exam study guides click here.
Click here for information on getting medical coding training, degrees, and/or certificates.