UPDATE

June 2, 2006

On finance and practice

Luggage-bungling is on the rise

Stafford loans will cost more

Interest rates on Stafford student loans taken out after July 1 will rise to 6.8 percent, up from 5.3 percent, under the deficit reduction law enacted earlier this year. The new loans will switch from variable rate to fixed rate, and the limits will increase. Freshman can now borrow $3,500 a year (up from $2,625), while sophomores can get $4,500 (up from $3,500). Loan limits weren't increased for juniors and seniors, and remain at $5,500.

Feeling guilty for driving an SUV?

You can assuage your conscience a bit for wheeling around in a gas guzzler by sending money to TerraPass ( http://www.terrapass.com), a forprofit organization which finances environmentally friendly projects and invests in clean energy sources. A TerraPass bumper sticker and two window decals cost from $29.95 for a hybrid vehicle to $79.95 for an SUV; the money is used to fund projects that cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. The amounts charged are said to be in proportion to the amount of carbon dioxide that the type of vehicle contributes to global warming.

More patients may be visiting you online

Cigna HealthCare is one of the latest carriers to offer self-insured plans a new employee benefit-virtual house calls. Patients whose companies choose the coverage would be able to make online doctor visits for nonurgent consults, renew and refill prescriptions, obtain lab results, schedule appointments, and request referrals. The service, set to begin in July, will initially be available only to a limited number of self-insured plans in California. But by next year, Cigna expects to offer it throughout the state, as well as in Arizona, Florida, and the tri-state New York metropolitan area.

Several Blues plans and Aetna have also introduced the service, but Cigna will have the broadest geographic reach of any health plan to date if its expansion goes as planned.