2011 Salary Survey Results

More Money, Educated, & Valuable

By G. John Verhovshek, MA, CPC

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The results of the AAPC 2011 Salary Survey are in, and the news is good. With nearly 12,000 responses, the greatest number so far, it’s clear that salaries are climbing upward for coders, and coders who have invested in their education and professional development are reaping the greatest rewards. A growing demand for skilled coders in a tough economic and health reimbursement environment is a testament to the value these professionals bring to employers.

Coders Take a Variety of Career Paths

Coders have the luxury of taking a number of career paths, especially now with health reform, electronic health records (EHRs), and ICD-10 entering the scene, so it’s no surprise they define themselves in a variety of ways. As in years past, Chart A shows that the majority of respondents (38 percent) describe their job as “coder.” Other common job titles are “biller/collector” (9.3 percent), “charge entry” (7.5 percent), and “billing manager” (6.5 percent).

Approximately 62 percent of respondents said they work primarily in physician-based coding; 10 percent are hospital coders; and 16 percent said they do both types of coding.

Respondents work in every specialty, with the greatest number in family practice (10.3 percent) and internal medicine (5.7 percent). Others include emergency medicine (5.2 percent), general surgery (4.5 percent), and obstetrics/gynecology (4.3 percent)—rounding out the top five specialties.

As for long-term career goals, about half (42.4 percent) said coding and billing is what they want to do long-term, as shown in Chart B. Just over 20 percent are looking forward to a career in auditing (This number has trended upward in recent years.); 12.3 percent want to be practice managers; and 9.5 percent cite compliance as the area in which respondents would most like to work.

Chart A

Chart B

Chart CCoders Earn Their Keep

This year, we asked respondents to estimate if they saved their practices or facilities annually through better documentation, more accurate coding, or improved billing procedures. Half estimate they saved their practices or facilities at least $10,000-$50,000 in the previous year. One-third said they believe they saved $50,000 or more. Results indicate that hiring skilled, certified coders is a wise investment for employers. Among the highest-earning responders (those earning $50,000 or more annually), greater than 90 percent said they saved their practices or facilities $50,000 or more annually.

What Do You Make?
Overall results show that wages have risen in the past 12 months. As shown in Chart C, the average wage in 2011 for a Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) was approximately $46,800 (up $1,400 from last year); and, for the first time since we’ve conducted a salary survey, more than half of all respondents—including those without a CPC®—reported earnings of greater than $40,000 annually.

Almost 80 percent of respondents were CPCs®, and more than 55 percent said that certification was a requirement of their employment (up from 52 percent last year). Approximately 25 percent of respondents hold certifications beyond the CPC® or CPC-A®.

Individuals with advanced certifications earned more this past year on average. For example, those holding both a CPC® and Certified Professionals Coder-Hospital Outpatient (CPC-H®) certification earned over $54,700 annually (an increase of nearly $4,000 since 2010). Respondents with a Certified Professionals Coder-Instructor (CPC-I®) certification did even better, pulling in over $76,000 per year (up over $6,000 from last year).

Coders Tend to Be More Educated
Survey respondents are better educated than the general U.S. population. More than 88 percent of our respondents have had at least some college, and more than half have either taken technical training or have earned a college degree. Whereas only 55 percent of Americans have had some college, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Among all respondents, those with a bachelor’s degree out-earned those with only a high school diploma by a dramatic $10,000 per year ($41,802 vs. $51,825).

More than half of the respondents (51.6 percent) said they have 10 years or more experience in their specialties; and more than 20 percent have 20 years or more experience. Roughly one-third of respondents (31 percent), however, have five years or fewer in their field.

More than half of those with 20 years or more experience earned in excess of $50,000 per year. Slightly more than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents with 10 years experience earned $50,000 or more per year. Among those with five years experience, only 14 percent fell into this high-earning group.

Wages are affected by other factors, as well:
• Coders in states with a higher cost of living were paid more than those in states with a lower cost of living. To cite one example, workers in California (with a cost of living index of over 150, where 100 is “average”) earned in excess of $57,700, while workers in Kentucky (with a cost of living index of 85) earned just under $37,500.

• Just over 45 percent of respondents work in urban areas, 36 percent work in suburban areas, and 18 percent work in rural areas. This mixture has been roughly consistent for the past several years. Among all respondents, urban workers earned approximately $47,500 on average, or approximately $2,000 dollars more per year than their suburban counterparts. Average pay in rural areas (where cost of living usually is lowest) was $40,300 annually.

• Only 5 percent of respondents worked fewer than 30 hours per week. The majority (58.2 percent) worked full-time (between 31 and 40 hours per week). More than one-third of respondents (37.1 percent) said they worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Chart DNot surprisingly, those working the longest hours also pulled in the largest paychecks: Just over 43 percent of respondents who worked in excess of 40 hours per week earned $50,000 or more, while fewer than 18 percent of those working 31-40 hours per week earned in excess of $50,000 per year.

• As shown in Chart D, coders continue to enjoy benefits that are becoming less common in other work sectors.

• As shown in Chart E, those working at a solo practice make less, on average, than those at small to medium provider groups. Only 101 survey respondents described themselves as “self-employed.” These high earners were among the most experienced and educated of all respondents.

Consolidation has become more common in health care in recent years, but the percentage of respondents working in solo practices, as well as in small, medium, and large group practices, has remained consistent. (For example, in both 2010 and 2011, 20.2 percent of respondents said they work in a large group practice.) Fewer than 20 percent of respondents said their practice has been involved in, or has considered, a merger or acquisition.

Unemployment Lower than National Average
The “Great Recession” officially ended June 2009, but the so-called “jobless recovery” has continued to affect hiring and employment. Unemployment in the United States has fluctuated around 9-10 percent for much of the past year (credit clay). Coders are slightly less effected with an 8.7 percent unemployment rate, according to our survey. Of these, more than 75 percent said they are new to the business of medical billing, and are trying to get their first job.

Chart E

Respondents who started a new job in the past 12 months said networking (both within and outside AAPC) was the No. 1 way they found work—so be sure to attend local chapter meetings. You might just find your next job there! Job hunters should also check AAPC’s Medical Coding Jobs board (www.aapc.com/medical-coding-jobs/), which posts thousands of positions nationwide.

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Average Salaries by Region

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37 Responses to “2011 Salary Survey Results”

  1. victoria says:

    Is there a site where practice free test for CPC-H can be taken ?

  2. Dana says:

    I am wondering if there is information on % of coders who are in jobs where they are allowed to work from home.

  3. Diana says:

    I would like to know average salaries for coders holding both CCS (or CPC) and CIRCC

  4. Leslie says:

    Does anyone know of sessions taking place to study for the CPC-H exam in CT? I have my CPC and live in CT.

  5. Angela says:

    I was also wondering what the average is for home coders.

  6. Sherry says:

    the last few years this article showed salaries of many different types, how much education you had, where you lived. i loved th e break down it helped me show my doc’s how much i should be making. i hope you go back to that format. thank you

  7. Maryann says:

    A break down by specific job description, such as: Auditor, Nurse Coder, Compliance Officer, etc. would be much more helpful.

  8. Mary Jane Horton says:

    I would also like to see a more specific breakdown by job description. i.e. Billing Supervisor/Coder, Compliance/Coder, etc. So many of us have other responsibilities in addition to coding.

  9. Corrine Doyle says:

    For Leslie…There is a CPC-H course that just started last week being given by The Medical Coding Academy (Branford). The number is 203-848-0496. Good luck.

  10. Misti says:

    I’d also like to see a more specific breakdown by job title/description. How many of your respondents are Practice Managers/Administrators? What is the average salary for that title and by years of experience? Thanks!

  11. Gabe says:

    haha this is funny I am a CPC and work for a medium size practice and make less than $30,000.00 a year. My hospital gets off cheap. Makes me sick

  12. Courtney says:

    I am in the process of changing my program at my college from a pharmacy technician to a healthcare coder. Thank god I have taken almost every class already that I need for a coder! I have been reading about this career and am very excited to get going on it. Thanks to this website ot answered a lot of questions I had and was very informative!

  13. Laurie says:

    Very nice breakdown, but boy am I underpaid!!!

  14. Venkatesh says:

    I am having 10+ years experience in medical billing and coding. I finished CPC exam. Good Knowledge in end to end process in medical billing. How much the pay I can expect?. Please Advice.

  15. Brandi says:

    I am having the hardest time finding a job in chicago, Illinois. It has been over a year since I got my certification. Can anyone HELP PLEASE!!!!!

  16. Marilyn says:

    I would like to know what salary a Biller(CPC)/ Accounts Receivable Tech should average!

  17. Jan says:

    I agree with Gabe, I would really like to know where those $53,334 average salaries in the Pacific northwest are; I am far below that wage and I also work for a fairly large facility.

  18. Kara says:

    I live in Central California and have my CPC-H. I work for a large hospital and make 57,300 per year.

  19. Charli says:

    I agree that these figures are a little exaggerated. I have 13+ in medical collections, billing. I am working towards my cpc now. Once I obtain it my employer is going to increase my pay but it will still be quite a bit less than the “average” on the survey. and all the open positions in the classifieds do compare to the salary I will be making with the cpc.

  20. Maryann says:

    Sherry’s comment is right on–this new format doesn’t tell me what i need to know.

  21. hanleydreamer says:

    I am looking for a seasoned Biller/Coder with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Billing/coding experience as I’m wanting to bring those services inhouse as opposed to outsourcing.

    My clinic is in NC; if interested or know someone, please email me and include CV and salary expectations.

    Thanks you

  22. Rissa says:

    I am looking for a career change. Can anyoone advise me of the best program to attend? I live in NC.

    Thanks

  23. Debbie Gispert says:

    I would be interested to see what starting salaries for CPC-A is. I’m teaching coding at a local junior college and the students have very unrealistic expectations.

  24. Meg says:

    To Debbie: I am a CPC-A, started my first job 5 months ago, I am in the mid-west and am making $37,500 working for a small family practice. I hope this is helpful.

  25. Barb says:

    We are seeking a qualified and experienced Coding Manager for our Pathology Center of Excellence in Peoria, Illinios. It’s a great opportunity to lead an experienced team and be with a growing company. Someone with instructor level would be welcomed and earn premium as well as we would pay the licensing fees.

  26. Rachel says:

    What is this “Cost of living” difference? Do Hospitals and Private practices get paid by Insurance companies depending on “Cost of Living” in that particular State or according to the procedure or services rendered? I’m sick of hearing the Cost of Living scapegoat. One should be paid the same across the board for a CPC, CCs, CPC-H etc..the only difference should be years of experience. Obviously a more seasoned coder should have more knowledge than a new coder therefore, should be paid at the higher range. Nut, the Cost of Living tale is just that. The insurance companies all have a fixed rate that they pay for services, irregardless as to what area that procedure and/or service is rendered. Also, Coders need to take pride in their work and all it took them to study and sit for that nationwide exam. 5.5 gruelling hours! Stop settling for $10 – $19 an hour!! You could do retail for more than that and don’t have to study theanatomy & physiology, medical terminology, procedures and E/M to get it.

  27. Rachel says:

    Excuse the typos…but I’ve been on interviews for positions where the hiring manager informs me that Coders are accepting $10-$18 an hour for that particular position. Then she gives me a list of duties & “others as the manager on duty deems fit” not to exclude, covering front desk lunch, A&P, Patient Accounts F/u, Charge Master updates, provider education, claims denials etc… I stay amazed! $10 an hour really?…

  28. svidya says:

    May i know that these salaries(37,000/annum, 57,000/annum) are after tax or before tax.

  29. Joannie says:

    When ICD-10 arrives next year, will the demand for certified coders increase? Will the salaries increase? What would the demand be for physician offices vs hospitals? Anyone have any projections?

  30. Sue says:

    Yes, I agree with Sherry and MaryAnn. This year’s article did not have the breakdown that we have seen in the past. Please go back to the format with type of credential, where you lived, how much education and so forth. This gives us a much clearer picture. Thank you.

  31. Hayley says:

    Is there a better choice to be certified as a CPC or a CPC-H? I am currently studying medical coding and billing and I was just wondering when I graduate if it’s more beneficial to take one certification exam over the other.

  32. Darrell says:

    Taking the CPC test is something that will benefit you in all areas of billing and coding. I currently teach ICD-9, CPT, and medical billing at a local college. Being a CPC is worth it’s weight in gold for me!

  33. Darrell says:

    BTW, I am also currenly keeping my options open for another position in the Chattanooga, TN area… If anyone needs an experienced coder, I have been in this field for the past 16 years….

  34. anna says:

    I am currently a seasoned coder/auditor. I currently work with in the RAC program and I am looking to work in the Ohio area. I am willing to relocate as soon as I secure a position that benefits both employer and myself.

  35. shawn cameron says:

    It would be nice if there was a breakdown for coders that hold specialty certifications. The field I am looking into is cardiology and it would be nice to see more of a breakdown for these kind of certified coders.

  36. shawn cameron says:

    SE2Y

  37. Kathy says:

    This the first time I’ve been to this site. What great information and comments. I saw a couple of comments from the northwest and I was wondering if anyone can comment on how hard it was to get a position after certification? thanks