You’ve decided that becoming a medical coding specialist is the right career path for you and that’s great!

We agree.

Though they work behind the scenes, these professionals play a crucial role in the healthcare industry. Not only will you have a rewarding career, but one that comes with excellent pay and job security.

(NOTE: If you want more information on salary, benefits and job prospects, you can learn more here on our detailed career guide of a Medical Billing Coder.)

But determining your career path is the easy part! Things get a little more confusing when you try and determine which certification you should get. CCA? CBCS? MCBC? CPC? How about SOS LOL!!

DON’T WORRY! We’ll walk you through each certification so you can make a sound decision.

**BUT** we do want to say right off the bat that you shouldn’t stress too much about certification. The main thing to focus on right now is choosing a good training program because THAT’S what will prepare you to take the certification exam regardless of which you choose.

We’ll also share some great training programs that are affordable and allow adult students to learn on their own schedule! So be sure to read this article all the way through to the end.

Okay, let’s talk certification…

Certification: Is it Really Necessary?

When you need a plumber or electrician to do work on your house, you typically look for someone that is licensed. This proves to you that they know their trade very well.

Certification works the same way.

There are specific industries, healthcare being one, that require their workforce to meet certain standards. Many states in this country require medical coders and billers to be certified. And, even in those states that don’t (yet) require certification, employers typically prefer to hire candidates who have been certified.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for medical billers and coders is expected to grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is far faster than the national average for all occupations. This means in the coming years there will be approximately 27,800 new positions added in the healthcare industry. While those are promising statistics, it should be mentioned that many people in your position are also reading these same promising statistics, which means there will most likely be a LOT of candidates all vying for these jobs in the coming years. Understand that those individuals who hold certification have better job prospects in this field.

Without question, certification offers coders and billers better job prospects, greater job security and typically higher pay!

So now let’s look at your four certification options.

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1. CCA Certification

What does CCA stand for?

CAA stands for Certified Coding Associate.

What is the CCA certification?

Since 2002, CCA certification has been recognized nationally as an achievement in the health information management (HIM) field. Professionals who hold this CCA credential have demonstrated coding competency and professional capability. And, because they have trained and passed the exam, they distinguish themselves from other candidates who have not been certified.

Who offers CCA? The American Health Information Management Association 

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is considered one of the leading voices in health information. AHIMA’s mission is to empower people to positively impact health. Through their certification, AHIMA hopes to ensure that sensitive health data always remains accurate, accessible, protected and complete—at all times.

The CCA Exam

Candidates have two hours to complete roughly 100 questions. The exam is given in a computer-based format.

What is the passing score for the CCA exam?

The passing score for the CCA is 300.

How much does the CCA exam cost?

Non-AHIMA members pay $299 while members pay only $199. Keep in mind, many certification training programs, including the ones we recommend, include a voucher to cover this expense.

What topics will the exam cover?

The CCA exam will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Clinical Classification Systems
  • Reimbursement Methodologies
  • Health Records and Data Content
  • Compliance
  • Information Technologies
  • Confidentiality & Privacy

What are the requirements to sit for the CCA exam?

Candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent to sit for the CCA examination. And, while not required, it is recommended that candidates have completed a training program and have at least 6 months of coding experience (don’t worry, we’ll show you how you can gain hands-on experience as a coder).

2. CBCS Certification

What Does CBCS stand for?

Certified Billing & Coding Specialist

What is the CBCS Certification?

With the CBCS certification, candidates have shown they have obtained the knowledge and skills necessary to perform meaningful tasks in the healthcare arena. This certification will help you stand apart from other candidates when it comes time to look for a job.

Who offers CBCS? The National Healthcareer Association

The National Healthcareer Association (NHA) is an industry leader committed to improving patient care. Established in 1989 to help prepare medical billers and coders for a rewarding career in healthcare information, the organization has awarded more than 750,000 certifications to student and professionals to date.

With a goal of improving patient care, NHA focuses on advocacy, education and certification. As industry advocates, the organization continually engages with both regulatory and legislative bodies to promote certification for the industry.

The CBCS Exam

The exam will take place at either your school, or if you’ve taken online classes, at a PSI Testing Center near you. You’ll have two hours to answer 100 questions.

How Much Does the Exam Cost?

The CBCS exam costs $109 and this fee includes study materials. But remember, many programs will cover the cost of your exam.

Topics covered on the exam:

Some of the topics covered on the CBCS exam include:

  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Claims Processing
  • Front-end Duties
  • Payment Adjudication
  • Apply Knowledge of Coding

Requirements to sit for the CBCS exam

The NHA requires that candidates who sit for the CBCS exam have a high school diploma or equivalent and have successfully completed a training program within the past 5 years.

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3. MCBC Certification

What does MCBC stand for?

MCBC stands for Medical Coding and Billing Certification.

What is the MCBC certification?

The MCBC certification is a stamp of approval that shows a candidate has demonstrated proficiency with the proper handling of sensitive health information. This certification is sought by many employers and gives the candidate a competitive advantage when looking for work.

Who offers MCBC? The National Workforce Career Association

The National Workforce Career Association (NWCA) was established in 2015 with the mission of providing a connection between learning, skills validation, and employment. Not only does this organization offer certification to medical billers and coders, they’ve played a critical role in creating the framework for assessing education achievements.

Working with over 500 colleges and universities, NWCA spent 3 years (and gave over 1,800 exams) to design an exam that would “translate what an individual knows into credentials that can be showcased to employers in an objective, standardized and meaningful way through digital badges.”

The MCBC Exam

The MCBC is a timed exam. Candidates have 90 minutes to complete 65 questions on medical coding and billing.

What is the passing score for the MCBC exam?

The passing score for the exam is 70%.

How much does the MCBC exam cost?

The exam costs $99. If you don’t feel like paying that much, look for certificate training programs that offer you a voucher for this expense. We’ll share some in a few moments.

What topics will the exam cover?

Topics include billing regulations, anatomy and physiology/medical terminology, CPT/HCPCS, ICD, Regulations/guidelines and types of insurance.

What are the requirements to sit for the MCBC exam?

Candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent to sit for the examination. While not required, it is recommended that candidates complete a training program and have at least 6 months of coding experience under their belt.

4. CPC Certification

What Does CPC stand for?

Certified Professional Coder

What is the CPC Certification?

The CPC certification is renowned throughout the world. Candidates holding this certification are highly sought after and well compensated. According to the organization’s website, passing the CPC exam elevates a candidate’s earning potential by more than $25,000 above annual salaries for people without the CPC certification.

Who offers CPC? The American Academy of Professional Coders

The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) was founded in 1988 to provide education and professional certification to physician-based medical coders. The organization’s certification is considered the gold standard and demonstrate a candidate’s ability to support cleaner claim submission, faster reimbursement, fewer denials, and better run practices and facilities.

The CPC Exam

The CPC exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and candidates will have 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete it.

How Much Does the Exam Cost?

If you take the exam online the cost is $299, while taking it in a physical location will cost you $399. That is unless you have taken a training program that covers the cost of your certification exam.

Topics covered on the exam:

Candidates can expect to be asked questions on:

  • Assigning accurate medical codes
  • Coding guidelines and regulations
  • E/M, anesthesia, surgery, radiology, pathology, and medicine
  • Anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology

Requirements to sit for the CPC exam

Candidates should have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent and have successfully completed a training program within the past 5 years.

Choosing the Right Certification Training Program

Okay, that was A LOT of information we covered, so let’s recap.

We’ve looked at the four main certifications – CCA, CBCS, MCBC and CPC – and learned a bit about the organizations that offer each one. Some certifications may offer a bit more clout than others. This seems to be the case for the  CBCS offered through the NHA, the CPC certification offered through The American Academy of Professional Coders, and CCA with Ahima.

However, the CPC and CCA tests also cost about 3x what some of the others cost and will also take close to 6 hours to complete, as opposed to the typical 2-hour test given by most certification organizations!!

So which certification is best for your personal career path? Well, there is actually a far more important question to ask yourself right now, and that is what makes a good certification training program?

You see, in order to pass ANY of these certification exams, you first need solid training under your belt. So before you spend time deciding which certification to go with, focus on finding an excellent training program.

In our experience, there are a few specific criteria that make a certification program worthy of your time and money:

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The Right Preparation

The right training will prepare you for ANY certification exam, whether it’s the CCA, CBCS, MCBC or CPC.

In other words, you don’t need to worry about which certification is best. All you need to do right now is find a great training program that will help you pass ANY of these tests so you can be on your way to becoming a certified medical biller and coder.

Take our free quiz to see what program is a fit, and what perks you could qualify for:

Take the Quiz! >

How Do I Choose A Medical Biller and Coder Program?

We can help.  To find the right program:

Choose an Authorized School

You would not believe just how many unauthorized websites out there with programs and training that have not been approved.

Online Training

A program must meet the lifestyle needs of the adult student. Online education fits into an adult’s busy schedule. Learn on your own time, when it’s most convenient for you and from the comfort of your own home.

It Doesn’t Cost and Arm and a Leg!

There are medical billing and coding programs offered that costs tens of thousands of dollars. That’s simply not affordable for most adults who have families and other financial responsibilities. That’s why has gone ahead and found excellent certification programs that are incredibly affordable.

In fact, many of the schools we’ve partnered with offer discounts and low monthly payment plans.  Take the free quiz to see if you could qualify!

Make Sure Books are Included

Textbooks can get really expensive. The right program includes books in the cost of the program.

An Externship is Also Included

To sit for examination, you may be required to have had at least 6 months of experience under your belt. The right program will include an externship placement so you can get this critical experience!

Next Steps to Become A Medical Biller and Coder wants to help you get an affordable education that will set you up for a rewarding and lucrative career.

That’s why we’ve partnered with schools that could meet ALL of this criteria.

Take a few moments to take our quiz to connect with the right certification program that matches your career goals and life situation.

All it takes is five minutes and you could be on your way to a rewarding and exciting career as a medical biller and coder.

Take the Quiz! >

About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.