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Quantitative Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

» Summary» Procedure Codes
» Description» Selected References
» Prior Approval» Policy History
» Policy

Medical Policy: 06.01.06 
Original Effective Date: September 2000 
Reviewed: August 2015 
Revised: August 2015 

Benefit Application
Benefit determinations are based on the applicable contract language in effect at the time the services were rendered. Exclusions, limitations or exceptions may apply. Benefits may vary based on contract, and individual member benefits must be verified. Wellmark determines medical necessity only if the benefit exists and no contract exclusions are applicable. This medical policy may not apply to FEP. Benefits are determined by the Federal Employee Program.

This Medical Policy document describes the status of medical technology at the time the document was developed. Since that time, new technology may have emerged or new medical literature may have been published. This Medical Policy will be reviewed regularly and be updated as scientific and medical literature becomes available.


Coronary artery calcium (CAC) scoring is a noninvasive test that has been reported to detect the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD) by measuring the location and extent of calcium in the coronary arteries. Tests to determine CAC scoring include: 

  • Electron beam computed tomography (EBCT), also known as ultrafast computed tomography (UFCT).
  • Helical CT or multi-slice CT (also known as multi-row detector)

ECBT and spiral CT or helical CT may be used as an alternative to conventional CT scanning due to their faster throughput. Their speed of image acquisition gives them unique value for imaging of the moving heart. The rapid image acquisition time virtually eliminates motion artifact related to cardiac contraction, permitting visualization of the calcium in the epicardial coronary arteries. Software permits quantification of calcium area and density, which are translated into calcium scores. Calcium scores have been investigated as a technique for detecting CAC, both as a diagnostic technique in symptomatic patients to rule out an atherosclerotic etiology of symptoms or, in asymptomatic patients, as an adjunctive method for risk stratification for CAD.


ECBT and spiral CT or helical CT (multi-detector CT) for CAC measurement generally takes 10 to 15 minutes and requires only a few seconds of scanning time.


Coronary calcium levels can be expressed in many ways. The most widely used is the Agatston score, which is a weighted summed total of calcified coronary artery area observed on computed tomography.  This value can be expressed as an absolute number, commonly ranging from 0 to 400. These values can be translated into age and sex-specific percentile values.

  • 0 – no identifiable disease
  • 1 to 99 – mild disease
  • 100 to 399 – moderate disease
  • > 400 – severe disease

The rationale for measuring calcium in coronary arteries is that it measures coronary atherosclerosis. Coronary calcium is present in coronary atherosclerosis, but the atherosclerosis detected may or may not be causing ischemia or symptoms. Such a measure may be correlated with the presence of critical coronary stenoses or serve as a measure of the patient’s tendency toward atherosclerosis and future coronary disease. Therefore, it could serve as a variable to be used in risk assessment calculation purposes of determining appropriate preventative treatment in asymptomatic patients. Alternatively, in other clinical scenarios, it might help determine whether there is atherosclerotic etiology or component to the presenting clinical problem in symptomatic patients, thus helping to direct further workup for the clinical problem. Most clinical studies have examined the use of coronary calcium for its potential use in estimating the risk of future coronary heart disease (CAD) events.

Despite the potential benefits of coronary artery calcium screening, it is also subject to a number of limitations and therefore, there is disagreement on its value:

  • Among asymptomatic patients with low Framingham risk score ( < 5%), only a small number (less than 15%) of those with coronary artery calcification will have a cardiac event over the ensuing five years. Coronary artery calcification screening is unlikely to benefit low-risk or high-risk patients, and is not recommended.
  • It has not been established that instituting or intensifying pharmacologic risk factor modification in asymptomatic patients with coronary artery calcification improves outcomes.
  • The potential harm associated with false positives tests and radiation dose (especially with repeated testing) is not known.
  • Providing patients with the results of coronary artery calcification testing may improve patient compliance with lifestyle changes and medications but results have been mixed.
  • Cost effectiveness of coronary artery calcification screening has not been defined 



There is extensive evidence on the predictive value of coronary artery calcium (CAC) score for cardiovascular disease among asymptomatic patients, and this evidence demonstrates that scanning has incremental predictive accuracy above traditional risk factor measurement. However, evidence from high-quality studies that demonstrate that the use of CAC score measurement in clinical practice leads to changes in patient management or in individual risk behaviors that improve cardiac outcomes is lacking. At least 1 randomized controlled trial suggests that the use of CAC score measurement in clinical practice may be associated with improved cardiac risk profiles, but an association between CAC score measurement with improved outcomes has not yet been demonstrated in other studies.

CAC scoring has a potential role as a diagnostic test to rule out coronary artery disease (CAD) in patients presenting with symptoms or as a “gatekeeper” test before invasive imaging is performed. Evidence from retrospective studies suggests that negative results on CAC scoring rules out CAD with good reliability. However, further prospective trials would be needed to demonstrate that such a strategy is effective in practice and is at least as effective as alternate strategies for ruling out CAD. To demonstrate that use of calcium scores improves the efficiency or accuracy of the diagnostics work up of symptomatic patients, rigorous studies that define exactly how calcium scores are used in combination with other tests in the triage of patients would be necessary. Retrospective and prospective studies have been mixed in their findings about whether CAC scores add incremental predictive value to cardiac computed tomography angiography findings in predicting outcomes for symptomatic patients with possible CAD.


Because of the lack of high-quality evidence demonstrating improved outcomes from  the use of CAC score either as a screening test to risk stratify patients or as a diagnostic test in symptomatic patients, the use of CAC scoring is considered investigational.


Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

In 2009 the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued a recommendation regarding using non-traditional risk factors in coronary heart disease risk assessment, current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of using the non-traditional risk factors discussed in this statement to screen asymptomatic men and women with no history of CHD to prevent CHD events.


The non-traditional risk factors included in this recommendation are high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), ankle-brachial index (ABI), leukocyte count, fasting blood glucose level, periodontal disease, carotid intima-media thickness (carotid IMT), coronary artery calcification (CAC) score on electron beam computed tomography (EBCT), homocysteine level, and lipoprotein(a) level.


American College of Cardiology Foundation (ACCF) and the American Heart Association (AHA):

2010 practice guideline by American College of Cardiology Foundation and the American Heart Association, for assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults:  Computed Tomography for Coronary Calcium Scoring:

  • Class IIa recommendation: Measurement of CAC is reasonable for cardiovascular risk assessment in asymptomatic adults at intermediate risk (10% to 20% 10 year risk). (Level of Evidence: B)
  • Class IIb recommendation: Measurement of CAC may be reasonable for cardiovascular risk assessment in persons at low to intermediate risk (6% to 10% 10 year risk). (Level of Evidence: B)
  • Class III recommendation: No Benefit. Persons as low risk (<6% 10 year risk) should not undergo CAC measurement for cardiovascular risk assessment. (Level of Evidence: B)

In 2012, the American College of Cardiology (ACC)/ American Heart Association (AHA) released guidelines for the diagnosis and management of patients with stable ischemic heart disease that include some recommendations related to CAC scoring.

  • Class IIb recommendation: For patients with low to intermediate pretest probability of obstructive IHD, non-contrast cardiac computed tomography to determine the coronary artery calcium score may be considered. (Level of Evidence: C)

In 2013, the American College of Cardiology (ACA)/American Heart Association (AHA) released guidelines for the assessment of cardiovascular risk:

  • Use of Newer Risk Markers After Quantitative Risk Assessment: If, after quantitative risk assessment, a risk based treatment decision is uncertain, assessment or 1 or more of the following: family history, hs-CRP, coronary artery calcification (CAC) score, or ABI may be considered to inform treatment decision making. (Level of Evidence B)


Prior Approval: 


Not applicable



Quantitative coronary artery calcium scoring, either by electron beam computed tomography or multislice computed tomography (EBCT) or Helical CT or multi-slice spiral computed tomography scanner is considered investigational.


Based on peer reviewed literature because of the lack of high-quality evidence demonstrating improved clinical outcomes or impact to treatment management from either the use of CAC score as a screening tests to risk stratify patients or as a diagnostic test in symptomatic patients and the lack of strong recommendations from authoritative sources, quantitative coronary artery calcium scoring is considered investigational.


Procedure Codes and Billing Guidelines: 

  • To report provider services, use appropriate CPT* codes, Modifiers, Alpha Numeric (HCPCS level 2) codes, Revenue codes, and/or diagnosis codes.
  • S8092  Electron beam computed tomography (also known as ultrafast CT, cine CT)
  • 75571  Computed tomography, heart, without contrast material, with quantitative evaluation of coronary calcium


Selected References: 

  • Agatston, A.S., Janowitz, W.R., Holdner, F.J., et al. Quantification of coronary artery calcium using ultrafast computed tomography. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2000; 15:827-32.
  • Arad, Y., Spadaro, L.A., Goodman, K., et al. Predictive value of electron beam computed tomography of the coronary arteries. 19 month follow-up of 1173 asymptomatic subjects. Circulation. 1996; 93(11):1951-3.
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Electron beam computed tomography. Technology Evaluation Center Assessments. 1994; 9(16):1-15.
  • Budoff, M.J., Georgiou, D., Brody, A., et al. Ultrafast computed tomography as a diagnostic modality in the detection of coronary artery disease. Circulation. 1996; 93:898-904.
  • Detrano, R.C. Coronary artery scanning using electron beam computed tomography. American Journal of Cardiac Imaging. 1996; 10(2):97-100.
  • Secci, A., Wong, N., Tang, W., et al. Electron beam computed tomographic coronary calcium as a predictor of coronary events: comparison of two protocols. Circulation. 1997; 96(4):1122-9.
  • Teng, W., Wong, N.D., Abrahamson, D., et al. Relation of electron beam computed tomography screening for coronary calcium to cardiovascular risk and disease: a review. Coronary Artery Disease. 1996; 7:383-9.
  • Thompson, G.R., Forbat, S., Underwood, R. Electron-beam CT scanning for detection of coronary calcification and prediction of coronary heart disease. QJM. 1996; 89(8):565-70.
  • Wexler, L., Brundage, B., Crouse, J., et al. Coronary artery calcification: pathophysiology, epidemiology, imaging methods, and clinical implications. A statement for health professionals from the American Heart Association Writing Group. Circulation. 1996; 94(5):1175-97.
  • Wong, N.D., Detrano, R.C., Diamond, G., et al. Does coronary artery screening by electron beam computed tomography motivate potentially beneficial lifestyle behaviors? American Journal of Cardiology. 1996; 78:1220-3.
  • O'Malley PG, Feurstein IM, Taylor AJ. Impact of electron beam tomography, with or without case management, on motivation, behavioral change, and cardiovascular risk profile: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003 May 7;289(17):2215-23.
  • Greenland P, Gaziano JM. Selecting Asymptomatic Patients for Coronary Computed Tomography for Electrocardiographic Exercise Testing. N Engl J Med 2003, Jul. 239;5.
  • Tiechholz LE, Petrillo S, Larson AJ, Klig V. Quantitative assessment of atherosclerosis by electron beam tomography. Am J Cardiol. 2002 Dec 15;90(12):1416-9.
  • Raggi P, Callister TQ, Cooil B, Russo DJ, Lippolis NJ, Patterson RE. Evaluation of chest pain in patients with low to intermediate pretest probability of coronary artery disease by electron beam computed tomography. Am J Cardiol. 2000 Feb. 1:85(3):283-8.
  • ECRI. Computed Tomography for Predicting Coronary Artery Disease Risk. Plymouth Meeting (PA): ECRI Health Technology Assessment Information Service; 2004 Apr. 39 p. (Windows on medical technology; no. 107).
  • Almeda FQ, Shah R, Senter S et al. Clinical and angiographic profile of patients with markedly elevated coronary calcium scores (>/=1000) detected by electron beam computed tomography. Cardiovasc Radiat Med. 2004 Jul-Sep; 5(3):109-12.
  • Ratliff NB 3rd, Jorgensen CR, Gobel et al. Lack of usefulness of electron beam computed tomography for detecting coronary allograft vasculopathy.  Am J Cardiol. 2004 Jul 15; 94(2):2002-6.
  • ECRI. Computed Tomography for Cardiovascular Disease Screening. Plymouth Meeting (PA): ECRI Health Technology Information Service; 2006 Nov. (Health Technology Forecast).
  • Budoff MJ, Achenbach S, Blumenthal RS et al. Assessment of coronary artery disease by cardiac computed tomography: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Committee on Cardiovascular Imaging and Intervention, Council on Cardiovascular Radiology and Intervention, and Committee on Cardiac Imaging, Council on Clinical Cardiology. Circulation 2006 Oct 17;114(16):1761-91.
  • Greenland P, Bonow RO, Brundage BH, Budoff MJ,  American College of Cardiology Foundation Clinical Expert . Consensus Task Force (ACCF/AHA Writing Committee to Update the 2000    Expert Consensus Document on Electron Beam Computed Tomography); Society ofAtherosclerosis Imaging and Prevention; Society of Cardiovascular ComputedTomography.Circulation. 2007 Jan 23;115(3):402-26. Epub 2007 Jan 12.
  • Michos ED, Vasamreddy CR, Becker DM, Yanek LR, Moy TF, Fishman EK, Becker LC,Blumenthal RS. Women with a low Framingham risk score and a family history of premature coronary heart disease have a high prevalence of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis. Am Heart J. 2005 Dec;150(6):1276-81.
  • Polonsky TS, McClelland RL, Jorgensen NW et al. Coronary Artery Calcium Score and Risk Classification for Coronary Heart Disease Prediction. JAMA. Apr 28, 2010; 303(16):1610-16.
  • ECRI. Calcium scoring may be useful screening for chest pain in emergency departments. Plymout Meeting (PA): ECRI Health Technology Information Service; 2010 February 12. (Health Technology Forecast).
  • Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI). Health Care Guideline: Preventive Services for Adults. 17th edition. September 2011. Accessed November 2011.
  •  Ferket BS, Genders TS, Colkesen EB et al. Systematic review of guidelines on imaging of asymptomatic coronary artery disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011 Apr 12;57(15):1591-600.
  • Rana JS, Gransar H, Wong ND et al. Comparative value of coronary artery calcium and multiple blood biomarkers for prognostication of cardiovascular events. Am J Cardiol. 2012 May 15;109(10):1449-53. Epub 2012 Mar 16.
  • Sniderman AD, Thanassoulis G, lawler PR et al. Comparison of coronary calcium screening versus broad statin therapy for patients at intermediate cardiovascular risk. Am J Cardiol. 2012 May 9. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Jacobs PC, Gondrie MJ, can der Graaf Y et al. Coronary artery calium can predict all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events on low-dose CT screening for lung cancer. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2012 Mar;198(3):505-11.
  • Okwuosa TM, Greenland P, Burke GL et al. Prediction of coronary artery calcium progression in individuals with low Framingham Risk Score: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2012 Feb;5(2):144-53.
  • U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. October 2009. Using Nontraditional Risk Factors in Coronary Heart Disease Risk Assessment, Recommendation Statement.

  • 2010 ACCF/AHA Guideline for Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk in Asymptomatic Adults. Circulation. 2010; 122:e636.

  • 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk. Journal of the American Cardiology j.jacc.2013.11.005.

  • UpToDate. Screening for Coronary Heart Disease. Frank G. Yanowitz, M.D.. Topic last updated October 12, 2012.

  • UpToDate. Diagnostic and Prognostic Implications of Coronary Artery Calcification Detected by Computed Tomography. Thomas C. Garber, M.D., PhD, FACC, FAHA, Christopher M. Kramer, M.D., FACC, FAHA. Topic last updated November 25, 2014.

  • Nishant R. Shah, M.D., Stephanie A. Coulter, M.D., An Evidence Based Guideline for Coronary Calcium Scoring in Asymptomatic Patients Without Coronary Heart Disease, Vol 39, Number 2, 2012.

  • Raimund Erbel, et al. Progression of Coronary Artery Calcification Seems to be Inevitable, but Predictable – Results of The Heinze Nixdorf Recall (HNR) Study. European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/curheartj/ehu288  


Policy History: 


Date                                        Reason                               Action

November 2010                      Annual review                    Policy renewed

November 2011                      Annual review                    Policy renewed

November 2012                      Annual review                    Policy renewed

October 2013                        Annual review                     Policy renewed

September 2014                    Annual review                     Policy revised

August 2015                         Annual review                     Policy revised


Wellmark medical policies address the complex issue of technology assessment of new and emerging treatments, devices, drugs, etc.   They are developed to assist in administering plan benefits and constitute neither offers of coverage nor medical advice. Wellmark medical policies contain only a partial, general description of plan or program benefits and do not constitute a contract. Wellmark does not provide health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Participating providers are independent contractors in private practice and are neither employees nor agents of Wellmark or its affiliates. Treating providers are solely responsible for medical advice and treatment of members. Our medical policies may be updated and therefore are subject to change without notice.

*Current Procedural Terminology © 2012 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.

Contact Information
New information or technology that would be relevant for Wellmark to consider when this policy is next reviewed may be submitted to:
  Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  Medical Policy Analyst
  P.O. Box 9232
  Des Moines, IA 50306-9232
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