Dealing with medical bills and health insurance is difficult in the United States. Hospitals, insurance companies and patients often have competing interests. Oftentimes, it's up to medical coding and billing departments to ensure that claims are paid by insurance and bills are paid by patients. But how do you start a career in medical billing? We spoke with Justin Brooks, the Executive Director for Professional Billing & Collections at Indiana University-Health to find out.
I am responsible for professional billing and collections, which is the billing of the insurance carriers for the provider's time and services rendered for patient care. The providers could be the medical doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants or anyone who provides care to patients.
Day-to-day at the management level are a lot of meetings, a lot of relationship building and relationship management, strategic thinking for future planning, supporting team members with issues and problem solving. For team members in billing and follow-up, they check claim status, review edits and denials, call payors, identify ways to prevent denials and ensure claims are paid for services.
I went to college for business administration and marketing. The marketing jobs that I found when I graduated from college turned out to be sales jobs, and I knew from previous experiences during school that I did not want to be in sales. But I needed to pay rent, so I took a temp job in medical billing collections. I was as a frontline analyst (collector) for professional billing with insurance companies. And from there, I worked my way up.
It allows me to help others without having to be medically or clinically trained, not patient-facing. For some, maybe they’re not a people-person, or maybe they don't like the sight of blood. I feel this is my way of being able to help people. I'm a fixer by nature. So, I’m trying to help people as far as making sure their medical insurance pays their medical bills to the level they are supposed to, and ideally only having patients be held responsible for what they truly owe —whether it's a copay or a deductible —but not anything more.
On-the-job-training is what best prepared me for medical billing. I have a bachelor's degree in business administration, and my degree did help from a business aspect, such as finance and management classes. As a young professional coming out of out of school, you may think you're ready to manage people but you're typically not. Real-life experience, practical application matters, at least in my opinion. I've been working my way up and learning. Having mentors and other individuals that took the time to help me learn and grow has gotten me to this point.
To come into this field, a lot of people are doing healthcare administration, business or finance. But we have people from all walks of life starting at entry level and up. There are a lot of different avenues. There are coders, people from IT learning the operational side of it, some people are nurses who come to the revenue cycle side. People can come into this job with no prior experience and work their way up. My advice is to gain experience, get your foot in the door, learn, and ask questions. Don’t let anyone be a dream crusher.
It's just really been different levels of progression. I've been in health care since I graduated from college. From that standpoint, I worked my way up from being frontline analyst, to an operations support person, to a team leader, to a supervisor, and then to a manager director and then an executive director. But I’ve worked in some capacity since the age of 14, and so I know the value of work. Our parents made sure of that. That has really been what has gotten me to this point.
I’ve always been involved in sports and I’ve gone to public schools. I think in both those cases, you're around different people, you're in situations where there are rules and some regimen that you need to follow. You have to learn how to work with others. And you're going to be faced with difficult situations and adversity. You're not going to always win so you need to know how to lose sometimes, which isn't the same as accepting losing. Being in a leadership role, you’re not always going to have the answers, and you need to be okay with that.
I'm very much a team player, which means knowing and understanding you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and knowing when you need to play your part or give extra effort. All of those things, I think, are life lessons. And the sooner people are able to learn them, my opinion is they're better equipped to be a contributing member to society. You're not always going to be right. You're not always going to have the answers as a leader, and you need to be OK with that.