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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Hundreds Apply For A Handful Of Jobs Coding Insurance Claims

VPR/Charlotte Albright
Hundreds of applicants learn about job openings for medical coders at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's information session.

About 700 people showed up at an Upper Valley information session Monday night to vie for a mere 10 jobs in healthcare. Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center is hiring people who can read patient records and translate medical services into numerical codes.

The codes are used by insurance companies to process payments.

Coders, as they are called, are in big demand as more and more people access health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. So Dartmouth Hitchcock has teamed up with state labor departments in Vermont and New Hampshire to find and train them. At an information session about available jobs at an Upper Valley hotel, a long line snaked into the parking lot.

Thirty-four-year old Miriam Meserve is from Springfield Vermont. She says she is a stay-at-home mother and a respite care giver in her home. But now she wants to be a coder.

“It’s a growing field and it’s something where, if you’re good at it, you can make money and have a stable nine-to-five good job,” she explains as she waits in line.

Meserve makes her way inside where with hundreds of others she gets a name tag and picks up a folder. Looking on is Gerry Ghazi, director of Vermont HITEC,  a non-profit organization that links people to job training. This, he says, is a golden opportunity for the right applicants.

“And what’s provided to them at no cost is an entire education program that leads to a guaranteed job if they successfully graduate,” Ghazi says.

That, and the promise of $17 an hour,  is part of what may explain the huge crowd. But to make it through the first cut, would-be coders must submit promising resumes and score well on aptitude tests measuring things like attention to detail, communication, and multi-tasking.

Mary Kay Boudewyns, Dartmouth Hitchcock’s director of revenue management, says the large number of people willing to jump through those hoops shows how hungry they are for steady jobs.

“And I think that the coding field is really a prime area for people to get started in a career that can serve them for many years,” she adds.

After an upbeat video, the crowd of applicants gets a rousing pep talk from a veteran Dartmouth coder named Tracy Sunderland. She sees coding as a crucial link between patients and the insurers who pay for their care. The wrong code can mean that a claim is rejected.

“We get a little obsessed with the codes. We  see them on license plates; we just can’t get away from the codes. We see numbers all the time. They mean something to us,” Sunderland says.

She says there’s a standard code for just about everything, including falling out of bed while hospitalized. And next year many hospitals will switch to a new, bigger set of international codes. So officials say unsuccessful applicants at this event should not get discouraged, because there will be other chances to snag a job translating health care services into the numbers that turn into dollars.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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