Jobs in the healthcare administration field vary considerably. You can choose to work in smaller facilities that demand a hands-on approach. Or, you can train for a bigger-picture career managing people from afar. The concept of managed care administration might bring to mind a desk-bound executive doing paperwork. Yet, that's not always the case. Managed care is an in-demand field that involves strategic thinking and collaboration.

With longer lifespans and an aging population, healthcare administration is on track for major growth.

Below, we’ll take a look at the managed care administration career path from education and potential roles. We'll also look at salary and job prospects from the entry-level up to senior exec.

What is Managed Care Administration?

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Managed care is a strategic public health role—defined as health insurance which creates contracts with specific providers in order to pass on group savings to members (patients). Most managed care plans are Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. People who work for HMOs put together health plans and negotiate set rates per person with healthcare purchasers and providers.

This area of healthcare aims to improve how healthcare benefits are delivered. If you live in the US and have health insurance, chances are, you are part of a managed care program. Managed care involves a lot of negotiating. Providers want to see profits, while patients need something affordable.

Contracts are in place so that medical facilities and administrators are able to provide care to members at reduced costs. Executives in the managed care work on the border of insurance and healthcare.

They might work at a managed care network or with a state or local government. In some cases, large medical organizations have their own managed care team working internally. In any case, you’ll have a lot of contact with insurance providers, physicians, and hospital administrators.

At its core, managed care is all about money management. Administrators process claims, assemble and maintain a network of providers. They cobble together various health services and market them as a health plan. Finally, managed care evaluates said services, seeking ways to cut costs and improve patient satisfaction. All these functions might exist in one organization, or span a network of several facilities.

With changes facing the industry and the role of Medicare/Medicaid, expect to see a shift in managed care’s role. These days, employers are moving more workers to high-deductible plans, putting more costs on employees. As such, what insurers cover will likely remain in the realm of managed care.

Additionally, some managed care plans focus on improving community health. In this case, administrators coordinate flu shot reminders, encourage wellness checks, and emphasize disease prevention.

Relationship building is also central to managed care. You’ll need to have contacts all over the healthcare industry—and you’ll need to be a persuasive communicator. This department also handles marketing health plans and creating messaging that connects with the patient community. Finally, quality control, financial services, and processing claims also come into play.

As you can see, managed care is a complex role with no shortage of things to do. This role makes most sense for a person who is a skilled communicator, a strategic thinker, and who has a good handle on finance.

Educational Requirements

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There is a range of career options that fall under this broader, managed care umbrella. As such, there’s some variability in the educational requirements needed to get started in this business. While some entry-level positions only require an associate’s degree, managed care is a strategic area. As such, leveling up your educational achievements can open up greater possibilities.

Here’s a look at what your education path might look like if you’re interested in managed care:

Bachelor's Degree

Getting a bachelor's degree may help you get your foot in the door early in your career, but you'll need to choose a relevant area of study. A bachelor's degree in healthcare or business administration will prepare you for related roles. You'll also get some background in marketing, quality assurance, and management.

Programs will vary by institution and state. In most cases, students learn about public policy, finance, marketing, management, and public health. Additionally, students will study communications, as they pertain to healthcare relationships. This includes payor relations, as well as communications with patients and hospital staff.

Students can bolster their college experience with internships in healthcare. Or, they can take part in labs preparing them for real-world challenges. While a bachelor's degree might not prepare you for a fast-track executive career, you'll have plenty of prospects.

Managed care coordinators can enter the workforce with a bachelor's degree. Ideally, the degree is in health administration, business, or another related field.

In some cases, students may choose to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree and for a master's degree after logging some time on the job.

Master’s Degree

Managed care organization administrators often come from a diverse background. Students come to this field with existing healthcare experience. Others may have a background in business administration, marketing, accounting, or finance.

The advantage in pursuing a health administration degree is the deep dive into the legal, financial, and managerial aspects of healthcare. Again, you may work in this field without a master's degree and do quite well. However, if you want to open the doors to a director position or get on the executive track, the MHA is a worthwhile investment.

Master’s degrees in health administration prepare students for high-level admin positions in a hospital setting, managed care organizations, and more.

Although education requirements vary in the industry, a good chunk of senior management has an advanced degree. Often, aspiring executives choose to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to learn general management skills.

The other option is seeking a more specific path. Earning a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or Master of Health Services Management (MHSM) may better prepare students for this particular career path.

Additionally, many of these programs, whether it's a Master of Public Health or a Master of Health Administration involve completing some thesis or capstone project. There, students can create an opportunity to focus on managed care.

Potential Roles in Managed Care

The managed care career path presents a wide range of career opportunities at every level. Here's a look at some of the possible roles, from the entry level to senior management roles.

Managed Care Coordinator

Managed care coordinators are responsible for communications between patients, medical facilities, and insurance companies. In this role, you'll be responsible for authorizing medical services and following all privacy and regulatory guidelines. Coordinators manage patient records according to industry standards.

Coordinators are responsible for many of the day-to-day operations. Working to ensure that communication runs flows between all involved parties. Managed care coordinators deal with insurance claims, authorizing services and handling patient billing processes.

Mid-Level Careers

At the entry level, you'll start by working as a managed care coordinator or somewhere in the sales or marketing department. As you progress in your career, more options open up. Think department managers, director or marketing or sales, or managers of ancillary services.

If you have a background in nursing or social work, a career as a case manager is a possibility. Or, you can become a specialist that negotiates contracts with payors and providers.

Director of Managed Care

Managed care directors are responsible for setting up commercial payor accounts and maintaining relationships with those companies. These folks manage a team—including

In this role, you'll need a bachelor’s degree. You must also have at least 3 years of experience in the healthcare industry. Ideally, you have experience with managed care contracts, billing, and claims issues. The ability to function as a liaison between the healthcare facility and the insurance providers is a big plus.

That said, candidates with a master’s degree may fare better than the competition.

Directors of managed care must balance customer satisfaction and with negotiating payor contracts. The candidate should have business development skills, know all relevant administration tasks, and experience running operations in a managed care environment.

In this role, you can expect to handle a lot of the contracting responsibilities and payor relations. You'll negotiate contract terms, update language provisions and set rate strategies. You'll plan and interpret contracts, develop new policies, set goals and help your team meet objectives.

You'll renegotiate contracts and develop new terms based on contract goals and parameters.

You'll work with senior executives making policy recommendations and coming up with new contracting strategies.

Managed Care Executives

At the senior level, positions include CEO, CFO, VP, etc. At this level, the applicant usually holds a master’s degree and has over 10+ years of management experience.

In the executive role, the applicant must have a proven track record of managing operations and personnel. They'll also need direct experience in developing policies, ensuring compliance, and developing organizational strategies.

Execs work to establish programs according to changing legislation. They'll work with a larger team to propose new programs that work for patients and payors alike.

Certification or Continuing Education Requirements

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Like other industries, managed care executives often work their way up from lower levels to managerial roles. If possible, take advantage of certification opportunities, further training, and development courses. These opportunities allow you to stay up-to-date on policy changes and new technology, as well as present an opportunity to network.

After achieving two+ years of experience in a managed care role, executives can set themselves apart with a certification from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). This association grants certification to qualified members who wish to advance to “fellow status.” You’ll need a recommendation and are on the hook for a $250 application fee and a $200 examination.

While ACHE only certifies experienced members, entry level administrators can take classes through the organization. The site also provides a wealth of information useful at every career level.

Salary and Career Outlook

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports managed care administrators earn a median salary of $98k on an annual basis. Earning potential varies based on experience, education, and the size of the organization. That said, there is some disparity by organization. The American College of Healthcare Executives states that managed care professionals usually earn between $50k and $70k.

At the senior level, executives can expect to earn more. Average salaries range from $150k-$250k, on an annual basis. And, in some cases, that number can get substantially higher, with the addition of stock options and bonuses.

Again, a master’s degree is optimal in this field, as there’s a lot of competition in this space, especially at the executive level. Still, there's plenty of room for growth with a bachelor's degree, as a mid-level manager or director can earn six figures.

The future of managed care is bright. As the baby boomer generation ages, strategic healthcare professionals will be in high demand.

This demand means all jobs within the healthcare industry are bound to be in high-demand. We’re talking nurses, doctors, and the administration there to make sure everything runs smoothly.

In the end, those people who choose a path in healthcare administration can expect a rewarding career with high earning potential. Applicants will often start out as a manager of a specific department and gain experience. Later in their careers, they may have the option to advance to executive roles overseeing entire facilities.

With the Affordable Care Act and the changing healthcare space, managed care executives will likely be in demand for the long haul. Executive-level managers in demand. New policies with careful pricing structures are needed to increase profits while cutting costs.

To enhance job prospects, you'll need to gain ample managerial experience, negotiation skills, and be a strong leader. An advanced degree can sweeten the deal, too.

Becoming an executive is a challenging path. But, a career in managed care provides an opportunity for a rewarding career heavy on problem-solving and relationship building. And room for growth, too.