GCC dental program draws attention

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Dental billing and coding may not sound exciting to most, but the latest degree program to be offered at Glendale Community College this fall is in high demand, administrators said.

The up-to-20-unit course that gives students skills to succeed in a growing division of the health-care industry was created after consulting with community dentists, said Mary Mirch, vice president of instructional services.

"[Staff members] literally went from dental office to dentist office in the area to see what they needed," she said.

College officials began to identify industry trends and work on changes to their program, Mirch said.

"What we were finding is that in a lot of different areas, there needed to be a modification to the certificate to deal with specializations," she said. "It wasn't terribly long ago when it was rare for people to have dental insurance, but now a lot more people do."

The course is about eight classes, with units costing $24 each. The degree and certificate is an extension of the dental front office courses that were first offered for credit last year, officials said.

"Medical and dental billing is becoming an opportunity for people to find a job that can help provide for their families and provide them with the flexibility they need to do other things," Mirch said.

Billing in particular is an emerging sector of the health-care field, officials said. Some practices keep their systems inside, while many dentists contract out with specialized services to manage them.

One error could threaten medical reimbursement, officials said.

Casey Dunlap, office manager for J. Luis Ruiz and Associates in Burbank, said larger dental offices like Western Dental put a higher premium on billing, but private offices like hers, which see many patients without health insurance, are less inclined to outsource their billing department.

"Someone who sees a high volume of patients would probably think it's very important," she said. "That's how they get paid."

But dental offices of all sizes would benefit from expert billers and coders, Mirch said. After all, it determines their reimbursement.

"As a consequence, it's really important to have people who don't just submit the papers, but know how to ensure how they will be reimbursed," she said.

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