Las Vegas (AP photo/Matt York)

Another year, another reason for AHIP Institute attendees to hold their collective breath.

Last year, the thousands of insurance company executives and vendors flocking to the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) annual meeting in Salt Lake City were waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Today, the thousands of people braving strong winds, high airfares and punitive bag fees to get to the 2013 annual meeting, in Las Vegas, know that the court has brushed aside the most obvious legal challenge to PPACA implementation — a question about whether Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a fine, or tax, on individual taxpayers who fail to own a minimum amount of health insurance.

The 2013 meeting is set to start Wednesday.

For insurance company executives, the driving question now is, “How will we connect with the PPACA exchanges by Oct. 1 and meet PPACA goals for improving the quality of care and reducing the cost, given that PPACA is supposed to slash spending on administration, and no one can actually tell us much about how exactly PPACA will work?”

Companies hawking hardware, software, data analysis tools and consulting services aimed at harried insurance company PPACA implementers are dominating the top levels of the 2013 meeting sponsors, exhibitors, and providers of speakers. 

The list of “chairman level select” sponsors, for example, starts with Accenture, a data system construction company, and ends with Verisk Health, a data analytics business.

The list of goody sponsors starts with AIM Specialty Health — a specialty benefits management firm — which is sponsoring the champagne, and ends with Verisk Health, which is reminding meeting attendees of the firm and delicious nature of the products of its data analytics systems by sponsoring the sushi.

Some of the other notable players in the AHIP meeting edible media marketing arena include the Council for Affordable Quality Health Care (CAQH), a nonprofit health plan standards alliance (mints); Casenet L.L.C., a care mangement system company (soft gourmet pretzel sticks); Elsevier’s MEDai, a clinical analytics company (Frappucino beverages); LexisNexis, news and public record database company (mimosas and mini chocolate malts); Thunderhead, a statistical analysis tool company (chocolate bars); and Softheon Inc., a PPACA systems company (martinis).

If any of the attendees start to feel faint of heart, they can go to a station sponsored by Truven Health Analytics for a Red Bull energy drink.

AHIP itself haas helped underscore areas of special interest by charging extra fees for programs on topics such as the new PPACA exchanges, or Web-based health insurance supermarkets; PPACA-related health management efforts; and health care provider payment reform efforts.

Two former governors — Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania — are set to appear in a closing luncheon session on the health care opportunities and challenges facing America’s governors.

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