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Obamacare and Medical Billing and Coding Careers

by Allen B. Ury

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as "Obamacare," now being rolled out across the country, a lot of people are asking, "How will Obamacare affect medical billing and coding careers? Will medical billing and medical coding jobs still exist under Obamacare? If I'm thinking about getting medical billing and coding training, will I still be able to find work under the new health care system?"

The answer is: The ACA does nothing to affect medical billing and medical coding jobs. If you currently work in medical billing or medical coding, the new federal health care plan won't affect you. And if you're thinking about going to school -- or you're in school now -- to learn medical billing and coding, the new health care law will have no impact on your job prospects when you graduate.

The ACA basically does two things: It requires everyone in America to either buy health insurance or pay a fine. This requirement is designed to force young, healthy people, who often don't buy health insurance, into the insurance market. This is supposed to keep overall costs under control. The other thing the law does is establish a baseline for what all insurance policies need to cover. For example, under the ACA, insurance companies can no longer reject people because of their medical histories or preexisting conditions. They also must have deductible and payment coverage that provides actual benefits to the policy holders, unlike the so-called "junk plans" companies often marketed in years past.

All insurance plans purchased under Obamacare are sold through private insurance companies whose names you're probably already familiar with, such as Blue Cross, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, Wellpoint, Humana, etc. No insurance is being sold directly by states or the federal government.

Under Obamacare, most states do have "exchanges" where participating insurance companies can offer their programs on a single website. These exchanges were established to encourage competition and lower rates. In states that don't have exchanges, shoppers are directed to go to the federal ACA website. This is the site that's been so initially frustrating due to a combination of poor backend design and the overwhelming number of people attempting to access its services.

What Obamacare does not do is change how medical services are delivered, how they're coded, and how they're billed.

Doctors still deal directly with patients. There is no interference from the federal government. Insurance providers can approve or refuse to pay for recommended services and procedures, just as they could before the ACA. Medical records are created and maintained as they were before Obamacare using the same codes. (The new, expanded ICD-10 codes are international and are completely unrelated to the new law.) And doctors bill for their services by charging co-pays up front and sending invoices to insurance companies for the balance, just as they have for decades. If there is any billing change likely to occur as a result of Obamacare, it's that more services will be charged to insurance companies and less will be billed directly to patients.

All of this means continued work for medical billing and medical coding specialists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to project the 10-year growth rate for medical records and health information technicians -- the category under which medical billing and coding most closely falls -- to be between 20 and 28 percent. The BLS considers this "faster than average" compared to other careers.[1] The BLS projects growth for billing and posting clerks in general to increase by a similar amount between 2010 and 2020.[2]

As for health care jobs as a whole, the BLS forecasts a 30 percent increase between 2010 and 2020. This addition of more than 5.6 million jobs will be due mostly to our country's aging population.[3] This bodes extremely well for anyone considering a future in medical billing or medical coding.

The Obamacare rollout may have been far more frustrating than its supporters may have liked. But one area of health care that's sure to continue doing well, regardless of how the new website works or new coverage is implemented, is medical billing and medical coding. It remains a career worth exploring.


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