CPC or CCA? The Big Question for New Coders

Coding and Billing4 Comments


Once students are nearing graduation and looking at their different credentialing options that would make it easier for them to secure medical billing and coding jobs, the most common question we get is whether they should take the CPC or the CCA. Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer! We’ve put together this list of questions you should ask to guide your decision.

Which exam should I take? The CPC exam through AAPC or the CCA exam through AHIMA?
Both exams are nationally recognized, and passing at least one exam indicates your preparation as a coder. There are some coders who choose to take certification exams through both organizations, but that is not required.

Which exam do employers prefer?
Overall, one exam is not more widely preferred by employers. Both are nationally recognized, but each employer may be different in their personal preference. If you have a few employers in your area you’d like to work for after you graduate, we recommend looking at their job listings or contacting them to see if they have a preference.

What about the CCS or CCS-P?
The CCS and CCS-P exams are not considered entry-level coding exams. They are fill-in-the-blank and much more difficult to pass, which is why they are only recommended for coders who have a few years of on-the-job experience.

Are there any employers that will hire me before I get certified?
In some cases, employers may reimburse you for ongoing credentialing or allow you to earn a specific credential within 6 months to a year of your hire date (if you have the CCA and need the CPC, for example). Currently, being nationally certified as a coder is not a requirement of all employers, but the industry is trending that direction. More employers want to see at least one credential up front before they will consider an applicant for hire. If employers are requiring credentials, and you are not yet nationally certified, you will be more limited in your options for employment. For that reason, we recommend all of our graduates get certified as early as possible after their graduation from the program.

Which organization is better, AHIMA or AAPC?
The organizations are different and neither is better than the other. If you look at the differences in what is offered with the membership, as well as the difference in the certification exams themselves (the format, the price, the types of questions), you may decide you have a preference between the two organizations.

Which certification do most Career Step coding graduates take?
We have had graduates be successful with both the CPC and CCA exams. More of our graduates take the CPC exam, but that is most likely because the exam includes a free retake and many of our students are involved in their local AAPC chapters.

I eventually want to work as an inpatient coder. Which exam more closely matches my goals?
Typically entry-level coders begin as outpatient coders. Many times outpatient coders move into inpatient coding once they get more onsite experience, but inpatient coding is generally considered a more advanced and experienced level of coding. Because of that, there are no entry-level credentials that represent a high level understanding of inpatient coding. Most employers will expect you to begin as an outpatient coder; however, if they know you have the inpatient training as well, they may be more likely to hire you with plans to cross-train you in inpatient coding later. For that reason, a CPC credential or a CCA credential will both put you in the right position to be certified as an outpatient coder first with the potential to move into inpatient training later as you gain more experience and additional credentials.

Which credentials should I get once I have a few years of experience?
There are many credentials available through both AHIMA and AAPC that you can choose to pursue after you have had a few years of experience. A few examples include the CCS, CCS-P, CPC-H, and specialty exams. These exams represent a high-level understanding of medical coding in various settings and practices. Many coders maintain credentials in both organizations, and generally the more credentials you have the better. For example, you could take the CPC exam through AAPC to start, and then once you have more on-the-job experience decide to sit for the CCS exam through AHIMA.


Comments
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  1. Stacey Blanks August 06, 2014

    Thank you for this blog.  I’m new in the course but have been wondering which is preferred!  I have some time to decide!

  2. Career Step August 13, 2014

    Glad we could be helpful, Stacey! Best of luck as you’re working through the course, and be sure to let us know if there’s anything we can do to help!

  3. Cheryl August 21, 2014

    Thank you.  Something I’ve been doing is watching coding ads through various job sites.  They tell you exactly what certifications you need for their company and it’s really giving me a good idea of what to expect after graduation.

  4. Career Step August 22, 2014

    That’s a great suggestion, Cheryl! Thanks for sharing! smile

  5. charan sanga February 14, 2015

    How to score the maximum % in the 1st attempt.

  6. Career Step February 16, 2015

    Hi Charan,

    We have a number of other posts that give advice on preparing for these exams…

    Taming the Beast: Tips for the CPC Exam
    CPC Exam Frequently Asked Questions
    CCA Exam Frequently Asked Questions

    Hope those help and best wishes on your exam!

  7. Joan Norman May 28, 2015

    I currently have an RHIT and am interested in getting into coding but I am torn between the CCA through AAPC or the CPC through AHIMA. I have no coding experience currently and I am not sure which credential would be better. Do you have any advice on choosing one over the other?

  8. Because you currently hold the RHIT, it might be more beneficial to study for the CCS through AHIMA or the CPC through AAPC, as the CCA is an entry level exam and you hold the RHIT.

  9. Taiwo Onanuga June 24, 2015

    I am a HIM student at a AHIMA accredited university in Maryland. I will graduate in HIM in a year time and I think the school will prepare us to take the RHIA exam too.
    If I have the RHIA under my belt. After completing the billing and coding program at Careerstep which certification would you recommend I seek?

  10. Instructor Randy Johnson June 25, 2015

    I recommend taking the CPC exam through AAPC.

  11. Xin June 26, 2015

    Hi, I want to take the CCA exam, which book do you recommend for studying? Icd 9 or icd 10? Also, which book should I take to the exam? Thnx!

  12. The CCA exam is currently testing in ICD-9 until October 2015. The books that you will need to take with you to the exam will be listed on the AHIMA website. Also check out our blog post regarding certification. http://www.careerstep.com/blog/coding-and-billing/who-needs-certification

  13. Jessica June 28, 2015

    Hi,

    I am currently taking HIT class at devry but I was thinking about taking the CCA or CPC exam before I graduate but I am not sure to which one I should take. What exam do you think I would be best off taking before I graduate?

  14. If you are looking to work in an Inpatient facility, then the CCA would be good. But, if you are looking to work in a physician office, then take the CPC as this is the one physicians will be looking for.

  15. Katie September 02, 2015

    I’m have been doing a lot of research on medical coding. I’m interested in that career path. Is it true that you dont need to take classes online? You can study by getting books and study guides and than go and take the exam and if you pass that makes you certified coder?

  16. Coding Support September 02, 2015

    Hi Katie,
    It is true that you may study on your own and take a certification test, the results of passing the certification drastically improve when taking a coding course.  AAPC and AHIMA do not require graduation from a training course, but it is strongly recommended.

  17. K September 05, 2015

    What is the very first certification, as well as the approved training curriculum needed to receive the first credentials upon obtaining a certificate from a 12 month college program? Please offer any opinions or suggestions to prepare a career in medical coding. Thanks bunches.

  18. Coding Support September 09, 2015

    K: Finishing the program will earn a graduate certificate.  The program prepares you for the CCA exam and the CPC exam. Education and a credential are both very helpful in obtaining a position in medical coding

  19. Bee September 27, 2015

    I plan on attending CS in the near future but I am not sure on which credential I should pursue. I would like to be a remote coder but not sure that is recommended for new coders. I feel as though I would need some years of experience first. I currently work at a consulting company & have done both billing and follow-up on medical claims. I don’t really deal with codes unless my claims deny due to incorrect codes…unrelated to HCPCS etc. I’d like to work in a facility or dr’s office if experience is needed prior to being a remote coder. I just need a little guidance.

  20. Coding Support September 29, 2015

    Taking a coding program provides great preparation and training to become a coder.  It prepares you for certification, and for entry-level employment.  There are a few employers out there who employ entry-level remote coders.  Check with our graduate support department for details.

  21. Walkiria October 04, 2015

    Hi,
    I recently graduated from CS’ Medical Coding & Billing. I am interested in taking the CPC exam. I am wondering if I should wait till January when AAPC exams are done using ICD-10 or should I take it now with ICD-9? I have training in both 9 and 10. Only thing if I take it now I will also have to take the ICD-10 proficiency test. I am trying to take the exam soon and AAPC only has exam dates available till end of year. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  22. Coding Support October 05, 2015

    Hi,
    Congratulations on graduating!  There are a few options with the ICD-10 transition.  AAPC is certifying this year only in ICD-9.  All 9 CPC holders need to pass the ICD-10 proficiency exam to maintain and keep their credential.  Otherwise you can shoot for certification next year in ICD-10.  It may depend on how soon you want to be certified, and how soon you are looking for employment.  Check out this blog article for more information on certification:
    http://www.careerstep.com/blog/coding-and-billing/certification-in-icd-9-cm-and-or-icd-10-cm-pcs

  23. Judi November 10, 2015

    Good afternoon.  I have been a home health and hospice biller for the past 10 years.  I am looking to get coding certification and am not sure where I should start.  I would like to be able to combine my billing experience with a coding certificate to improve my employment opportunities.  Can you help me figure out which way to go?  It’s rather confusing.

  24. Coding Support November 11, 2015

    Judi,

    The certification that I see people with billing experience take the most is the CPC. This certification is very heavy in coding, but this would allow you to combine your billing knowledge with coding. Good luck with your studies.

  25. Renee November 15, 2015

    I graduated a year ago from Sullivan University, however I still ahve not taken a certification test because I am not sure which one to take.

  26. Instructor Randy Johnson November 19, 2015

    This depends on where you are planning on working. The CPC exam is a physician based exam so if you plan on working in the physician office setting this is the exam you should take. The CCA exam is a hospital based exam so if you plan on working in the hospital this is the exam you should take.

  27. Chelsie December 09, 2015

    Hi,
    I just recently finished the coding course through AAPC but have yet to take the CPC exam. Now that I have completed the course do I have any type of credential or certification? Can someone please clarify this for me? Also, I have heard it is very difficult to pass the CPC exam without prior experience in coding but have noticed a lot of companies will not hire without taking the CPC exam and/or 1+ years of coding experience. Any tips for me on what to do will be greatly appreciated!

  28. Instructor Randy Johnson December 10, 2015

    When you pass the final exam you receive a certificate of graduation. In order to be certified you need to pass the national certification exam. We have a high success rate with our graduates passing the CPC exam. Those that pass the CPC exam use time management skills to be successful on the exam. When taking the CPC exam you can only spend about 2 minutes on each question.

  29. Denise M. Smitj December 20, 2015

    Can I get some information about taking the exam to get my Certified Coder Certification. Do I need the book to study for it?

  30. Instructor Michelle Malquist December 23, 2015

    For both the CCA or the CPC, there are study guides available through AHIMA as well as AAPC. AAPC also has a practice exams that you are able to purchase. These are excellent resources available to help you succeed on the certification. All of the information regarding these exams is also located on their website as well as a small breakdown of information that will be on the exam. Good luck with your studies.

  31. joey December 31, 2015

    hi. can an aapc(cpc) coder take the ahima(ccs) exam at anytime?

  32. Coding Support January 04, 2016

    the CCS is a more advanced test, this training program does not cover topics/information needed for the CCS. Ahima recommends experience for the CCS.

  33. sky January 06, 2016

    I am interested in taking the cpc course thru aapc.I wanted to know after taking that course and passing the exam. if I can also take the ahima ccs exam after proper studying with out taking their course. Or do I have to take a different course for my ccs credential?  I also wanted to clarify that I dont have to take a medical coding course through a school to be able to sit for either exam cpc or ccs?  I can in fact study by myself with the correct studying material and study guides and tutors. Allowing me to by pass aapc or ahima online course and still be allowed to take the cpc and ccs exam ? If I do go that route of not taking their online course and i am able to pass the exam will I be issued a entry level certificate instead of the certificate aapc offers with real life experience? Which is equal to 2 years on the job training. Ex.cpc-a vs cpc
    Thank you.

  34. Michelle January 06, 2016

    Which pays more, inpatient or outpatient coders?

  35. Simone January 11, 2016

    Hi, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management and to really use it, you have to have a clinical degree or certification in some health related field. I have worked in the healthcare field for over a decade now and I know coders are well paid. I’m now interested in getting my certification.  Is it possible for me to get a CPC certification even though I’ve never done any coding per say?

  36. Coding Support January 11, 2016

    Traditionally inpatient coders are paid higher.

  37. Coding Support January 11, 2016

    Sky: The CCS exam is administered through AHIMA, it is a more advanced certification that requires 2-3 years experience on the job. Their requirements are spelled out at their website. 
    Training is recommended, but not required for the CPC. To get the CPC, you have to sit for the test. Everyone who passes the CPC is automatically considered an apprentice. CPC-A is the designation until the two years experience requirement is met, then the “A” is removed. See AAPC website for more information on the apprenticeship designation removal process.

  38. Coding Support January 13, 2016

    The CPC exam focuses heavily on coding.  so, yes it may be possible to pass the exam without any coding knowledge, but very unlikely.

  39. Michelle Parascandola January 23, 2016

    I’m taking an online medical billing and coding course. When I finish it, which test do you recommend?

  40. Kathryn Darnell January 26, 2016

    I am currently trying to decide between career step program and AAPC program, does career step allow me to sit for both test?

  41. Teresa January 27, 2016

    I am at my senior year at a HIM 4 year program. I will be eligible to take the RHIA exam but will I be eligible to take the CCS exam?

  42. Coding Support January 28, 2016

    This article addresses the decision to take the CPC or the CCA.  We do not put preferential treatment to one organization or the other. Most of the Career Step graduates take the CPC.

  43. Instructor Michelle Malquist February 01, 2016

    Kathryn,

    Our program prepares you to sit for both the CCA through AHIMA and the CPC through AAPC. Good luck with your studies, and we look forward to having you as one of our students here at Career Step.

  44. Instructor Michelle Malquist February 01, 2016

    Teresa.

    To take the CCS, it requires about 2 years of on the job experience in order to be ready to take this certification.
    Good luck!

  45. Vanessa February 13, 2016

    I have been out of school for 2 years. I need a refesher course before I take an exam. Any ideas where I should look to do this. I do not want to retake the entire course again. Thank You for any advice u can pass on

  46. Career Step February 16, 2016

    Hi Vanessa,

    The industry moved from ICD-9 to ICD-10 in October 2015. If you were trained in ICD-9, we offer an ICD-10 course for ICD-9 coders which can help you refresh your coding skills while you learn the new ICD-10 codeset.

    You can learn more about it here:
    http://www.careerstep.com/icd10-fasttrack

    Feel free to give an Academic Advisor a call at 1-800-411-7073 if you would like more information!

    Best wishes!

  47. AM March 23, 2016

    Hi, I have taken all courses in medical admin, with anatomy and pharmacology and EHR, I take coding in the fall, but I have been volunteering in the HIM dept. For 9 months to gain experience, I know some coding methods as with little self taught and online videos, I would like to sit for the exam, which one should I try the CCA or CPC? Thanks for the advice.

  48. codingsupport March 24, 2016

    Hi AM,

    Thank you for your question!

    Where the CPC exam focuses more on outpatient, the CCA tests on inpatient. Depending on what type of experience you have may determine which certification you feel more comfortable with. If you would like more information go to https://www.aapc.com or http://www.ahima.org

    Best wishes!

  49. Mandi April 08, 2016

    I have an RHIA degree and have been coding inpatient for over 3 years. Is it recommended to take the CCS exam or would it be pointless with my degree? I’ve gotten different responses each time I ask.

  50. Leah April 16, 2016

    Do you consider that one has enough experience to take the CCS exam immediately after progressing from CPC-A to CPC (those who have progressed beyond their apprentice designation)? Or should one have a further 2 years of experience after that? Thanks!

  51. coding support April 20, 2016

    Hi Mandi!

    The program prepares for the CCA exam with AHIMA.  We do not currently provide training for the CCS exam.

    Best wishes!

  52. coding support April 21, 2016

    Hi Leah,

    AHIMA recommends a minimum of 2 years experience coding inpatient records before sitting for the CCS exam.

    Best wishes!

  53. Monica April 25, 2016

    I am a newly hired Patient Account Representative and I want to get my CPC or CCA to further my career. I am halfway through my associates and have not taken any major specific courses yet.

    I am simply taking the CareerSteps course to prepare for an exam. Do you suggest I also finish my Associates in Healthcare Management or Healthcare Information BEFORE taking the exam, or will CareerSteps course be enough?

    Hi Monica,

    Thank you for question. The Career Step Medical Coding and Billing course will absolutely prepare you to take the exam.  Best of luck and please let us know if you have any other questions!

  54. coding support April 26, 2016

    Hi,

    I am an instructor at CareerStep for the medical coding and billing program.  During the training program you may utilize the instructors at CareerStep.

  55. coding support May 03, 2016

    Hi Selena,

    I am a coding instructor through CareerStep.  In your training program you will have access to instructors at CareerStep.  If you enroll through a community college you may have some other resources there as well. I recommend asking coding support for assistance through your training program. If you are looking to enroll, then I would advise to speak to an enrollment advisor at 1-800-411-7173. Thanks!

  56. lea Gargon May 11, 2016

    Hi guys, this blog has a lot of information! But I was wondering, If I were to take my CPC exam through AAPC and find a job, get experience and so on. Would I be illegible to take the cca exam through ahima?

    Hi Iea,

    You can absolutely take both of the exams.

    Best wishes!

  57. n. May 17, 2016

    Hi..I’m interested in taking a course in medical billing and coding. I have no previous experience so my question is one medical billing course better than the other in terms of preparing you to be eligible to take national exam(s) afterward? Also a lot of employers request experience, where do you obtain experience if you’re just now breaking into the field of coding? Seems that would be discouraging if having experience prior to applying for employment is a requirement for consideration. Any insight on this will be helpful.

    Hi-
    Thank you for your interest and your questions!

    The Career Step Professional Medical Coding and Billing certification program is designed by experts with decades of experience working in and teaching medical coding. Upon graduation, you’ll be prepared to sit for the Certified Professional Coder (CPC) exam offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) or the Certified Coding Associate (CCA) exam offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

    In the final section of the training program introduces you to all of the different code sets and teaches you how to use them. You’ll practice coding actual medical records and reports (provided by our employer partners) and use the 3M encoding software so you have lots of hands-on experience and graduate ready to earn your credential and start working.

    We’ve specifically designed this medical coding training program to ensure you gain exactly the skills you need to start working as a medical coder, and with our applied PCS training you’ll stand out to employers.

    Some of the largest and most respected names in healthcare (including the leading provider of healthcare services in the U.S. and one of the nation’s largest managed healthcare companies) use our curriculum to train their employees. Some of our graduates have even been hired to work remotely right after graduation.

    Hopefully we answered your questions—best wishes!

  58. Dee September 03, 2016

    Hello,

    I am a current AHIMA CCA and want to take the AAPC CPC exam.  Are there more classes I need to take, or can I just study for the CPC exam?

    Thank You

  59. Career Step September 06, 2016

    Hi Dee,
    We would recommend completing a medical coding and billing course before taking the certification exam.

    Hope this helps!

  60. coding support September 06, 2016

    Hi Dee,
    Have you received training on CPT and other CPC topics?  Taking a medical coding and billing training program can be helpful in preparing for certification tests.  You may want to check the list of topics, practice questions, and requirements on AAPC.com website for the CPC exam.

    Hope this helps!

  61. Kathryn September 16, 2016

    Hello Dee,

    I’m looking to get into the medical administration field. I’ve had my BA in Management for 9 years and I’m looking to obtain a Master’s Degree. I’ve been looking into a Master’s of HIM and I’m curious if it would be a wise choice due to the fact that I’ve got ZERO experiance in the medical industry. Would I get the MHIM and then sit for the RHIM or RHIT and remain under qualified and need a coding certificate? Would I have enough technical knowledge at with the MHIA with no practical experiance to even sit for the RHIM or test for certificates? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.Thank you!!!

  62. coding support September 19, 2016

    Hi Kathryn,

    Career Step currently provides certificate training programs designed to prepare you for the CCA, and the CPC.  We do not offer associates, bachelors, or masters degrees. If you are looking to learn how to code, this is the place!

  63. Melissa November 07, 2016

    For management of a coding team. Could you give your suggestions on which course is best for that. Especially if the coding would not be inpatient, and would not be the primary role of the position and reason for a certification. Thank you

  64. coding support November 08, 2016

    Hi Melissa,
    Thanks for reaching out to us and for your question. Many management positions require a degree and/or certification of RHIT/RHIA with experience.  It may be best to check with the organizations specific requirements.
    The CPC is a great certification for outpatient coding.

    Hope this helps and best wishes!


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