CCA vs. CPC: What They Are and How To Choose One

Updated June 24, 2022

The CCA and the CPC credentials are important for a medical coding career. However, it's important to understand what each of the certifications can offer you for your career development. If you're hoping to pursue a medical coding credential, it's helpful to know what each certification exam covers and what the major difference is between them. In this article, we discuss what the CCA is, what the CPC is and how to decide between the two.

Related: Learn About Being a Medical Coder

What is a CCA?

CCA stands for certified coding associate. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers this credential to individuals who want to demonstrate their coding competency in different mediums, such as hospitals or physician practices. To earn the CCA credential, individuals have to take an exam and earn a passing score of 300 that's calculated based on the exam's own scoring procedures. Though the only requirement for taking the CCA exam is to have a high school diploma, the AHIMA recommends individuals complete one of the following:

  • An AHIMA approved coding course

  • Six months of professional coding experience

  • Completion of another coding training program that covers current procedural terminology (CPT) coding.

The exam itself is anywhere between 90 -115 questions and the association gives testers two hours to complete it. The questions on the exam will require extensive coding knowledge, skills and experience to choose the best answer presented to you. Because of the number of testers and beta testing the AHIMA performs, it can take several weeks to get your results after taking it.

What is a CPC?

CPC stands for certified professional coder. The American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) offers the credential to those who are seeking a medical coder career. It's an entry-level certification that can help individuals demonstrate their expertise for the role and possibly earn a higher salary. To earn the certification, medical coders first have to take an exam and earn a passing score of at least 70%.

The exam is five hours and 40 minutes long with 150 multiple-choice questions, which mostly cover CPT for medical coding. You have the option to take the test in person or online, and the AAPC offers a variety of tools and practice exams to help you prepare. The AAPC notifies testers of their scores one to two weeks after the exam is complete.

Related: How To Become a Certified Medical Coder


Here are the major similarities and differences between the CCA and CPC credentials:


One of the major differences between the two credentials is their exams. For the CCA exam, the cost is $299 for non-AHIMA members and $199 for members. For the CPC exam, the cost is $299 if you take it online and $399 if you take it in person. However, the exams also differ in more than just the price and number of questions. Each certification covers slightly different topics, which the testers will need to prepare.

The CCA exam covers subjects such as the clinical classification system, reimbursement methodologies and information technologies. The CPC exam covers subjects such as coding guidelines and regulations, accurate medical code assigning and different types of medical terminology. Though both tests can prepare you for a medical coder career, it's important to understand what each test covers so you can prepare more efficiently for the exam.

Advancement opportunities

Individuals who earn a CCA or CPC certification will often start their careers as entry-level outpatient coders. If they wanted to develop further in their career, they'd have to learn inpatient coding and possibly earn a second, higher-level certification. However, the CCA and CPC credentials allow individuals to show a basic understanding of inpatient coding that can allow them to pursue higher-level positions in the future. Some employers might even place individuals with either of those certifications on a path to start training with inpatient coding right away.

Related: Outpatient vs. Inpatient Nurse: What's the Difference?

How to decide between the CCA and the CPC

Here is a list of steps on how to decide which certification is right for you:

1. Read job descriptions

When deciding on which certification to choose, it's helpful to read the job descriptions for medical coders. If you're interested in applying for certain hospitals or positions, take a look at their qualifications. If it lists a specific credential for the job, then that's the one you might want to pursue. If multiple jobs list different credentials, consider contacting the employers and asking them if they would still consider your application, even if you received a different certification.

Sometimes individuals pursue a medical coding certification after they've been working on the job. If that's the case, consider talking with your manager or supervisor and see which exam or credential they recommend. If they don't have a preference, see which credential your coworkers received and ask for their recommendations.

2. Check prerequisites

Depending on which certification you want to pursue, it's important to read the prerequisites. Though both of the exams only require a high school diploma, they do have recommendations for you to fulfill before taking them. These recommendations can help you feel better prepared for the test and help you develop your occupational knowledge. The CPC exam recommends that individuals have at least an associate degree and proof of a recently completed training course. The CCA recommends that you have at least six months of training or proof of an approved training course as well.

The CPC also has an apprentice certification that individuals can take with no training or experience required. However, the certification is marked as CPC-A, which stands for certified professional coder-apprentice. That means they can still pursue a medical coder career but will need to seek additional training before removing the word "apprentice" from the title.

3. Review your curriculum

If you earn an undergraduate degree or take a course in medical coding, it's possible that the course creators made the course for a specific certification exam. Review the course curriculum and compare it to the material on each exam. If you feel more prepared for one versus the other, consider taking the test for which you feel more prepared. Otherwise, talk with your course instructor and see which exam they recommend taking.

Related: Q&A: What Are Certificate Programs?

4. Understand what they offer

It's helpful to know what each exam can offer your career, but also how they can help you prepare. When choosing a credential, see which organizations offer study materials, such as practice tests, study guides and tutors. The more prepared you are for the test, the more confident you can feel in taking it. If both organizations offer similar study materials, consider searching online to see what other resources are available to you for each test. The more resources available for the test, the more efficiently you can study for it.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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