The path to financial independence, job stability, and career fulfillment is within your grasp. An associate degree in healthcare administration provides the opportunity to join the expanding healthcare field in less time than a typical four-year degree. It is one of the fastest growing job fields, not just in the healthcare industry, but among all occupations in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The benefits of obtaining an associate degree in health administration differ greatly from those offered by an associate degree in medical billing and coding. The differences are also notable when it comes to job description and career outlook for those who complete one of the two programs.

The Job Description

Though both fields offer an associate level degree and are part of the health information career field, the two offer very different types of employment. A graduate of a medical billing and coding program has a narrower scope of practice than those graduating in the field of health administration. Billing and coding are actually two separate, yet often combined fields. Coding specialists, using information obtained from medical records, assign alpha numeric codes to illness, injuries, and medical procedures. The codes determine payment and coverage. Billing specialists send the coded claims to insurance companies for reimbursement or bill the patients directly for services rendered. Graduates of accredited heath administration programs have the opportunity to work as medical transcriptionists, medical records technicians and medical administrative assistants. Some programs even offer training that will qualify you to work as coders or as clinical medical assistants that provide hands on patient care. Below are brief job descriptions of some of the employment opportunities an associates in health administration qualifies you for. A more detailed job descriptions for these various careers are found at Health Care Pathways.

• Medical transcriptionists transcribe physician audio files into text and prepare various reports including but not limited to discharge summaries, surgical reports, and autopsy reports.
• Medical records technicians are responsible for the organizing, filling, maintenance, and security of the patient's health information.
• Medical administrative assistants do a variety of tasks. In addition to basic office task they are often responsible for scheduling appointments, correspondence and coordinating billing.

Now Hiring

The employment opportunities available for someone holding an associate in health administration and medical billing and coding are growing, though much more rapidly for healthcare administrators. The expected rate of increase for several health care administrator careers is 41% compared to medical coding and billing at 21% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The projected demand for trained workers in health administration exceeds the current availability of these skilled professionals. The main reason for the growing demand is the aging Baby Boomer generation: those born between the years 1946–1964. The life expectancy for this large, aging population is longer than earlier generations. Their overall health, however, is worse than their predecessors. This combined with the current economic climate has placed a strain on the health care industry. There is a need for more facilities to support the rapid growth in the elderly population which means increased staffing needs. Hospitals, physician offices, and clinics are all potential employers. There is even a market for independent contractors working from home in some specialties. The healthcare industry's pressing need to cut cost while enlarging its skilled labor force has made health administration one of the fastest growing fields in the United States.

Climbing the Ladder

Career advancement opportunities for those holding an associate degree in medical billing and coding consist mainly of increased pay for relevant years of work experience. In addition to the salary benefit, an associate degree in health administration provides a stepping stone to a career in healthcare management or finance and accounting. Credits attained from an accredited institution in courses such as medical terminology, health information systems, anatomy and physiology, and many more can usually be transferred and applied towards a bachelor degree in health administration or a related field.

Let's Talk Money

Potential salary is a significant factor in choosing an educational path and future career. There is substantial amounts of time, energy, and money invested into education in preparation to enter the work force. Many wish to see a tangible return on that investment making an associate degree an enticing prospect. An associate degree is typically a faster, less expensive option compared to their bachelor degree counterparts in many career fields. Associate degrees are commonly offered at community colleges and by trade schools and the tuition at these institutions is generally less expensive. Graduates of both health administration and medical billing and coding programs earn, on average, about $30,000–$32,000 annually as a starting salary. Health administration professionals, however, have some specialties with first year salaries averaging around $42,000. These amounts vary by state and type of employer. For those who wish to pursue a more advanced degree, an associate degree in health administration is still an excellent option. It has the benefit of allowing quicker entry into the work force, thus providing a means of financial stability and independence, job experience, and the funding for higher educational goals.

So What Are You Waiting For?

The demand for specialists in health administration is high, surpassing even that of medical billing and coding. The rate of growth in the healthcare industry has reached unprecedented levels. The need for trained professionals exceeds the current availability. These factors make obtaining employment all but certain for those entering the job market upon completion of an associate degree in health administration. The job growth potential and variety of employment opportunities are just two of the many benefits of choosing this educational path. The reward for the time, money, and energy invested in obtaining a health administration associate degree is an exciting career in a much-needed field. It is an opportunity to become a part of a team of skilled professionals providing services that are crucial to the health care of countless people.