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Surgical Left Atrial Appendage Occlusion Devices for Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation

Policy Number: MP-751

Latest Review Date: August 2023

Category: Surgery                                         


The use of surgical left atrial appendage occlusion devices, including the AtriClip device, for stroke prevention as a stand-alone procedure in individuals with atrial fibrillation is considered investigational.

The use of surgical left atrial appendage occlusion devices, including the AtriClip device, for stroke prevention in individuals with atrial fibrillation may be considered medically necessary for those undergoing concomitant open or thoracoscopic cardiac procedures.


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. Stroke associated with AF is primarily embolic, tends to be more severe than the typical ischemic stroke, and causes higher rates of mortality and disability. As a result, stroke prevention is one of the main goals of AF treatment. Treatment with anticoagulant medications is a first-line approach to stroke prevention in individuals with AF, although occlusion of the left atrial appendage (LAA) may offer a non-pharmacological alternative to anticoagulant medications for those with a contraindication or intolerance to long-term anticoagulant use or with poor anticoagulant adherence. Multiple surgical techniques may be used to excise or occlude the LAA. One device, the AtriClip Left Atrial Appendage Exclusion System, has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for surgical LAA occlusion for stroke prevention in patients with AF.

Stroke Prevention

The risk for stroke among patients with AF is evaluated using several factors. Two commonly used scores, the CHADS2 score and theCHA2DS2-VASc score are described below:

CHADS2 and CHA2DS2-VASc Scores to Predict Ischemic Stroke Risk in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation


Clinical Characteristics

Points Awarded


Congestive heart failure (signs/symptoms of heart failure confirmed with objective evidence of cardiac dysfunction)



Hypertension (resting blood pressure >140/90 mmHg on at least 2 occasions or current antihypertensive pharmacologic treatment)



Age ≥75 y

1 (CHADS2)

2 (CHA2DS2-VASc)


Diabetes (fasting glucose >125 mg/dL or treatment with oral hypoglycemic agent and/or insulin)



Stroke or transient ischemic attack (includes any history of cerebral ischemia)



Vascular disease (prior myocardial infarction, peripheral arterial disease, or aortic plaque)



Age 65-74 y



Sex category of female (female sex confers higher risk)


Stroke in AF occurs primarily as a result of thromboemboli from the left atrium. The erratic atrial contractions in AF lead to blood stasis in the left atrium, and this low flow state increases the risk for thrombosis. The first-line treatment for stroke prevention in AF is long-term anticoagulation, which has proven efficacy. Warfarin, a vitamin K antagonist, is the predominant agent in clinical use. Several newer direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC) agents, including dabigatran, rivaroxaban apixaban, and edoxaban, have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for stroke prevention in nonvalvular AF and have demonstrated noninferiority to warfarin in clinical trials. Warfarin requires frequent monitoring and adjustments as well as lifestyle changes; DOACs do not require the frequent monitoring seen with warfarin therapy. While anticoagulation is effective for stroke prevention, it carries an increased risk of bleeding. Reversal agents can be used to counter the effects life-threatening bleeding in individuals using warfarin or DOAC therapy. Such agents carry their own risk of inducing life-threatening thrombosis. For individuals with AF who have a contraindication to warfarin and DOACs, dual antiplatelet therapy with aspirin and clopidogrel is an option for stroke prevention, though it is less protective than either warfarin or DOACs.

The area of the left atrium with the lowest blood flow in AF, and therefore the highest risk of thrombosis, is the left atrial appendage (LAA). The LAA is a small extension of the left atrium that can vary widely in both size and shape (morphology). LAA morphologies are described according to their appearance and include: the chicken wing, which is the most common morphology and features a prominent bend in the dominant lobe; the cactus, characterized by a dominant central lobe with superior and inferior secondary lobes; the windsock, which features one dominant lobe; and the cauliflower, which is the least common morphology and features numerous lobes with none being dominant. It has been estimated that over 90% of left atrial thrombi occur in the LAA. Surgical removal or exclusion of the LAA is often performed in patients with AF who are undergoing open heart surgery. Surgical techniques to exclude the LAA include resection or occlusion through stapling or clipping.

Percutaneous endovascular LAA occlusion is discussed in medical policy 490.


The most recent literature update was performed through June 17, 2023.

Summary of Evidence

For individuals with AF at increased risk for embolic stroke undergoing LAA occlusion with an AtriClip device as a stand-alone procedure, the evidence includes a controlled observational study and case series. Relevant outcomes are ischemic stroke, cardiac events, and mortality. One small (N=40) industry sponsored retrospective observational study reported that use of the AtriClip device as a stand-alone procedure resulted in similar outcomes compared to percutaneous LAA occlusion. This evidence is too limited to draw definitive conclusions. Well-designed RCTs with follow-up of 1 year or more comparing stand-alone AtriClip device placement with percutaneous LAA occlusion are needed to provide adequate evidence for assessment of net health benefit. The evidence is insufficient to determine that the technology results in an improvement in the net health outcome.

For individuals with AF at increased risk for embolic stroke undergoing LAA occlusion with an AtriClip device concomitant with open or thoracoscopic cardiac surgical procedures, the evidence includes a RCT, a controlled observational study, and case series. Relevant outcomes are ischemic stroke, cardiac events, and mortality. Evidence from several systematic reviews and a large (N>10,000) observational study found surgical LAA occlusion was associated with a reduction in the risk of stroke without an increase in the risk of adverse events. LAA occlusion was associated with a reduced risk of stroke versus no occlusion in the LAAOS III trial. A retrospective database study that compared the AtriClip device with no occlusion found that AtriClip placement was associated with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, and a reduced risk of thromboembolism. Large (N>100) case series of AtriClip device use with 2- to 3- year follow-up reported stroke rates ≤1% in the postoperative period and ≤2% in the long-term follow-up. The evidence is sufficient to determine that the technology results in an improvement in the net health outcome.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

American Heart Association et al

In 2019, the American Heart Association, in conjunction with the American College of Cardiology and the Heart Rhythm Society, issued a focused update of their 2014 joint guideline on the management of individuals with atrial fibrillation (AF). The focused update states that "surgical occlusion of the LAA may be considered in patients with AF undergoing cardiac surgery as a component of an overall heart team approach to the management of AF" (Class IIB [weak evidence of benefit outweighing risk]; Level B-NR[moderate-quality evidence from nonrandomized studies or meta-analyses of those studies]). No recommendation was made regarding the method of surgical LAA occlusion.

American College of Chest Physicians

Guidance from the American College of Chest Physicians in 2018, recommends:

  • In patients with AF at high risk of ischemic stroke who have absolute contraindications for oral anticoagulants (OAC), we suggest using LAA occlusion (weak recommendation, low quality evidence).
  • In AF patients at risk of ischemic stroke undergoing cardiac surgery, we suggest considering surgical exclusion of the LAA for stroke prevention, but the need for long-term OAC is unchanged (weak recommendation, low quality evidence).

No guideline statement recommends a specific occlusion method or approach.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations

No U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations for surgical LAA occlusion have been identified.


AtriClip, Left atrial appendage, LAA


In June 2010, the AtriClip LAA Exclusion System (Atricure) was cleared for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the 510(k) process (K093679). The FDA determined that this device was substantially equivalent to existing devices for occlusion of the LAA. The AtriClip has gone through numerous iterations since 2010, primarily relating to changes in the clip material composition and refinements of the clip applicator. The current FDA cleared indication is unchanged from the original 2010 indication, which states that the AtriClip is indicated for "exclusion of the LAA, performed under direct visualization, in conjunction with other cardiac surgical procedures." The FDA clearance documentation notes that direct visualization “requires that the surgeon is able to see the heart directly, with or without assistance from a camera, endoscope, etc. or other appropriate viewing technologies." As of 2022, AtriCure markets 7 different versions of the AtriClip device, whose use varies according to LAA size and type of concomitant surgical procedure.


Coverage is subject to member’s specific benefits.  Group-specific policy will supersede this policy when applicable.

ITS: Home Policy provisions apply

FEP contracts: Special benefit consideration may apply.  Refer to member’s benefit plan.  


CPT codes:   


Exclusion of left atrial appendage, open, any method (e.g., excision, isolation via stapling, oversewing, ligation, plication, clip)


Exclusion of left atrial appendage, open, performed at the time of other sternotomy or thoracotomy procedure(s), any method (e.g., excision, isolation via stapling, oversewing, ligation, plication, clip) (List separately in addition to code for primary procedure)


Exclusion of left atrial appendage, thoracoscopic, any method (e.g., excision, isolation via stapling, oversewing, ligation, plication, clip)


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  14. Ellis CR, Aznaurov SG, Patel NJ, et al. Angiographic efficacy of the atriclip left atrial appendage exclusion device placed by minimally invasive thoracoscopic approach. JACC Clin Electrophysiol. Dec 11 2017; 3(12): 1356-1365.
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  16. Friedman DJ, Piccini JP, Wang T, et al. Association Between Left Atrial Appendage Occlusion and Readmission for Thromboembolism Among Patients With Atrial Fibrillation Undergoing Concomitant Cardiac Surgery. JAMA. Jan 23 2018;319(4): 365-374.
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  25. Kiankhooy A, Liem B, Dunnington GH, et al. Left atrial appendage ligation using the atriclip device: Single-center study of device safety and efficacy. Innovations (Phila). 2022; 17(3): 209-216.
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  27. Kurfirst V, Mokracek A, Canadyova J, et al. Epicardial clip occlusion of the left atrial appendage during cardiac surgery provides optimal surgical results and long-term stability. Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg. Jul 01 2017; 25(1): 37-40.
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Medical Policy Panel, August 2022

Medical Policy Group, August 2022 (4): Adopted new policy.  

Medical Policy Administration Committee: August 2022

Available for Comment: September 1 - October 15, 2022

Medical Policy Panel, August 2023

Medical Policy Group, August 2023 (4): Updates to Description, Key Points, and References.  No change to policy statements.


This medical policy is not an authorization, certification, explanation of benefits, or a contract. Eligibility and benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis according to the terms of the member’s plan in effect as of the date services are rendered. All medical policies are based on (i) research of current medical literature and (ii) review of common medical practices in the treatment and diagnosis of disease as of the date hereof. Physicians and other providers are solely responsible for all aspects of medical care and treatment, including the type, quality, and levels of care and treatment.


This policy is intended to be used for adjudication of claims (including pre-admission certification, pre-determinations, and pre-procedure review) in Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s administration of plan contracts.

The plan does not approve or deny procedures, services, testing, or equipment for our members. Our decisions concern coverage only. The decision of whether or not to have a certain test, treatment or procedure is one made between the physician and his/her patient. The plan administers benefits based on the member’s contract and corporate medical policies. Physicians should always exercise their best medical judgment in providing the care they feel is most appropriate for their patients. Needed care should not be delayed or refused because of a coverage determination.

As a general rule, benefits are payable under health plans only in cases of medical necessity and only if services or supplies are not investigational, provided the customer group contracts have such coverage.

The following Association Technology Evaluation Criteria must be met for a service/supply to be considered for coverage:

1. The technology must have final approval from the appropriate government regulatory bodies;

2. The scientific evidence must permit conclusions concerning the effect of the technology on health outcomes;

3. The technology must improve the net health outcome;

4. The technology must be as beneficial as any established alternatives;

5. The improvement must be attainable outside the investigational setting.


Medical Necessity means that health care services (e.g., procedures, treatments, supplies, devices, equipment, facilities or drugs) that a physician, exercising prudent clinical judgment, would provide to a patient for the purpose of preventing, evaluating, diagnosing or treating an illness, injury or disease or its symptoms, and that are:

1. In accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice; and

2. Clinically appropriate in terms of type, frequency, extent, site and duration and considered effective for the patient’s illness, injury or disease; and

3. Not primarily for the convenience of the patient, physician or other health care provider; and

4. Not more costly than an alternative service or sequence of services at least as likely to produce equivalent therapeutic or diagnostic results as to the diagnosis or treatment of that patient’s illness, injury or disease.