2016 Salary Survey: Pay Climbs for Credentials

2016 Salary Survey: Pay Climbs for Credentials

To see the latest survey results, go to 2017 Salary Survey: Right on the Money  


Where you work factors into pay, but credentials and experience top off the charts.

By David Blackmer, MSC, and Michelle A. Dick, BS
The results of AAPC’s 2016 Salary Survey show, once again, that  our credentials equal value in the eyes of employers. The numbers also confirm that coding and billing managers, educators, and employees of healthcare systems and large group practices saw pay and employment increases last year.
On average, annual salaries for members in 2016 were up 0.6 percent from the year before, at $49,872. Compared to the 0.5 percent increase physicians received in Medicare reimbursement last year, healthcare business professionals are holding their own. Whether you made more or less in 2016 depended on where you lived, the type of organization you worked for, how much experience you had, and the credentials you held.
Let’s check the numbers to see what factors will help you earn more in 2017.

Rack Up Points for Credentials

Worldwide, 9.2 percent of our membership hold two or more credentials and 2.2 percent hold three or more credentials. Certified Professional Coders (CPCs®), in particular, saw a significant jump in pay, from $51,454 in 2015 to $52,690 in 2016, for a 2.4 percent increase. Holders of specialty credentials also did well, with average salaries going from $56,396 in 2015 to $57,524 in 2016, for a 2 percent increase.
The three credentials that earned members substantial salaries in 2016 were:

2015 2016 % Increase
No. 1:
Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO™)
$71,500 $75,680 5.8
No. 2:
Certified Physician Practice Manager (CPPM®)
$64,666 $67,143 3.8
No. 3:
Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CPMA®)
$62,345 $64,444 3.4

On average, members received salary increases whether they held one or more AAPC credentials:

2015 2016 % Increase
Specialty credentials $56,396 $57,524 2.0
Any 1 AAPC credential $51,621 $52,605 1.9
2 or more AAPC credentials $58,399 $60,305 3.3
3 or more AAPC credentials $65,643 $66,999 2.1

Those who earned AAPC’s new Certified Documentation Expert Outpatient (CDEO®) credential made an average of $83,654 last year. A caveat to this data is that the credential was still in beta testing in 2016, and the 13 salary survey respondents also reported an average 14.5 years of experience in the business of healthcare, which likely hikes up the average salary. It will be interesting to see how this credential affects salaries next year, especially in light of the new reporting requirements for the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).
Graph A shows the 2016 salary changes based on individual AAPC credentials.
Graph A: Salary by Credential


Earn Bonus Points for Experience and Hard Work

As in previous years, AAPC’s 2016 Salary Survey proves that experience pays off. On average, employed survey respondents said they have been working in the business of healthcare for 11.2 years. The highest pay goes to those with 31+ years of experience, with an average annual salary of $67,162. Those with one year or less of experience averaged $35,906, annually, in entry level positions.
To view all of the average salaries organized by years of experience, see Graph B.
Graph B: Salary by Experience
Members worked less overtime in 2016 than in 2015, according to survey respondents. In 2015, 15 percent of you worked more than 45 hours a week, compared to 12.2 percent in 2016. This decrease may be an indication that providers have implemented ICD-10-CM and you are getting comfortable with the new diagnosis coding system and picking up speed. Thankfully, the majority of you (75.4 percent) worked 40-45 hours per week last year, which is a slight increase from 2015.

Coding/Billing Managers and
Educators Have the Advantage

2016 was a big year for coding and billing managers, who saw a 3.5 percent increase in wages between 2015 and 2016 (from $59,679 to $61,794). It was also a decent year for coding educators, who reported a 3.2 percent increase (from $62,290 to $64,298). The only pay decrease was reported by practice/office managers: Data show salaries went from $59,021 in 2015 to $58,438 in 2016.
All in all, there has been a steady climb in salaries across the board these last four years, as shown in Graph C.
Graph C: Salary by Job Responsibility

Job Satisfaction Pays Off

Almost 75 percent of respondents said they work on-site, while the rest reported working remotely. Roughly 60 percent of our members are content with their job, and are not looking elsewhere. Here are the percentages for those looking for another job and the reasons why:

  • 12.3 percent would like a position that pays better.
  • 8.5 percent want to find a job with more advancement opportunities.
  • 8.7 percent would like a position where they could work remotely.

Hospitals Are the Place to Be

It’s no surprise that health systems are growing in staff, while smaller facilities are succumbing to attrition. It is surprising, however, that hospital outpatient staff size decreased from 10.6 percent in 2015 to 9.1 percent in 2016 (1.5 percent decrease), and the average salary for members was $47,421. Meanwhile, inpatient facility staffs increased from 5.2 percent in 2015 to 5.4 percent in 2016 (0.2 percent increase), and the average salary was $49,408. It looks like inpatient coding is a good career move.
Health systems and large group practices are good places to be working right now, too. The average salary for members in health system in 2016 was $52,320, while members in large group practices made $49,452. According to the numbers:

  • 18.3 percent of respondents work for a large health system; and
  • 13.2 percent of respondents work for a large group practice.

Graph D shows the rest of the percentages of where members are employed.
Graph D: Percentage of Where Members Work

Payout Depends on Demographics

In 2014, the pendulum swung towards big pay increases all over the United States. In 2015, it swung back. In 2016, salaries pretty much evened out. There was a slight pay increase in most areas, with the mid-Atlantic, Mountain, and New England regions showing the most improvement. Members in the Mid-Atlantic region (N.J., N.Y., Pa.) went from earning an average of $52,219 in 2015 to $53,757 in 2016 (a 2.9 percent increase); members in the Mountain region (Ariz., Colo., Idaho, Mont., N.M., Nev., Utah, Wyo.) went from $49,978 in 2015 to $51,310 in 2016 (a 2.7 percent increase); and those of you in the New England region (Conn., Mass., Maine, N.H, R.I., Vt.) went from $52,153 in 2015 to $53,504 in 2016 (a 2.5 percent increase).
Chart E shows the average salaries in 2016 by demographic. Members in the Pacific region (Alaska, Calif., Hawaii, Ore., Wash.) came out on top, with an average salary of $57,005 in 2016.

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Michelle Dick
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About Has 257 Posts

Michelle A. Dick, BS, provides writing and editorial expertise to clients. She is a freelance proofreader for Partners & Napier’s Vine Creative Studios and the owner of My Garden Gal, a garden maintenance and landscaping business. Prior to becoming a free agent, Dick was an executive editor for AAPC.

17 Responses to “2016 Salary Survey: Pay Climbs for Credentials”

  1. Virginia Lucero says:

    This was a lot of helpful and interesting information. It’s actually motivating me to resume my study on coding.

  2. C. Beth White says:

    It would be nice to see the difference in pay when comparing the different specialties. Could this be done for the next Salary Survey?

  3. Dave Blackmer, MSC says:

    C. Beth – I’d be happy to pull stats on specific specialties for you (but there’s a caveat on that below). Send me an email at david.blackmer@aapc.com and let me know which ones you’d like to see compared. I left out the detailed data for specialties because we have less than 10% of our membership holding a specialty certification right now, we only get about 10% of our members to respond to this survey, and the individuals in those two groups don’t always match up! The data for some of the specialties is just too limited to be very statistically reliable. Still, I’m happy to make the comparison for you — I’ll even let you know how many respondents we had for each requested specialty, so you can judge how accurate you feel the data is for yourself!

  4. C. M. says:

    My employer provides a salary summary for the employees that include dollars paid (per hour/salary) PLUS the value of any benefits we are currently receiving. I assume the AAPC survey does not include value of benefits, correct? Thanks for the clarification!

  5. Dave Blackmer, MSC says:

    C.M. – You are correct, this salary survey does not include an evaluation of benefits. Several years ago, we asked questions in the annual salary surveys about benefits received, but we found that a really accurate depiction of that kind of data required a much deeper dive, focused in that one area. For instance, most respondents might have a PTO policy where they work. But how many hours are received? When are they accumulated? When do the employees qualify for an increase in these PTO hour calculations? How strictly are employees expected to request PTO, under what circumstances, and how far in advance for each circumstance? What holidays are granted outside the PTO policy? How are sick days handled – in conjunction with PTO, or outside it? You get the idea. Unique variables just make it extremely difficult to accurately quantify the value of additional benefits. I wish we could add these kinds of statistics in; I’d love to have access to more complete information and crunch these numbers!

  6. DCOertel says:

    Can you confirm the number of members within each region that did submit data for this survey since you stated above the data only consisted of 10% of your total members? Just curious to know if there was a high enough # of people surveyed to consider the data viable.

  7. Dave Blackmer, MSC says:

    DCOertel – Excellent question. The average number of respondents per region was over 1,700. And that’s not including a few thousand individuals choosing not to answer that specific question on the survey! While there was certainly fluctuation in the specific numbers from region to region, I feel very comfortable that the overall numbers were still statistically significant.

  8. Melissa says:

    Do these average salaries include just the employee’s gross yearly pay or do these totals also take into account the benefits, vacation, retirement ect provided to the employee as well? I am almost to my annual review and feel like I am very under paid based off of these numbers. But I want to go in educated with the correct information. Thank you.

  9. John Friel says:

    All this is making me dizzy. I did the course with a 4.0 but got absolutely no assistance from my school after graduatiron. How does someone find the starting point on this site? I need to brush up but don’t have a lot of cash for fees. can anyone give me some direction?

  10. Josephine Pistone says:

    I have recently decided to change careers from being a teacher not home all day being at work and then going home just to work some more is just not what I want to do anymore. I have a 1 year old and plan on being a wife and mother and working from home. What are you thoughts on that?

  11. Kathleen Alves says:

    Is there any way I could also get the salary survey of the specialties?

  12. G. Srinivasan says:

    Very interesting job

  13. Megan Rizzo says:

    I like how it is broken down between the different number of certifications that one has.
    but it would also be good to have if there are other degrees involved. I haven’t ever found a salary comparable to my own position.
    I am an RN and a coder for a homecare agency. I also have an oasis c2 certification. it has been difficult to analyze my salary.

  14. Eleathia Longcope says:

    Mr. Blackmer I am an RHIT, and interested in earning the CIRCC credential. AAPC offers a great variety of specialty coding certifications, and with such a small percentage of AAPC members (You said it was around 10%) responding to surveys, and less of those that hold the specialty credentials and/or multiple credentials, I’m not sure how to locate salary information for those that hold them in dual associations. Would you be able to share income numbers for CIRCC credential, and perhaps the combined RHIT & CIRCC set?

  15. Christina Kracht says:

    I would like the salary survey to break down by multi surgical coder, specialties, location. It would be nice to see the difference between HCC coder, OP coder and inpatient coder, educator, office based coder.

  16. Cindy says:

    Would you be able to help me figure out a beginning base salary for a Coding Auditor Supervisor position in Georgia with a large 700+ physician practice? I have 25+ years of coding experience in multiple specialties (Cardiovascular, Neurosurgery, Urology, Acute Care and Trauma, Interventional Pain Medicine, and a few others) I have about 6 of management experience. Will be supervising a group of 4 Coding Auditors and responsible for education and training for a group of 25 Coders and Charge Posters.

  17. Yolanda M James says:

    I have 28yrs in health insurance and I will be taking the exam to be certified soon. How do I get to the jobs with that type of salary.