It’s a fact that the NPS collapse threatens the viability of many Missouri funeral homes. It’s also a fact the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors had jurisdiction over NPS and did not shut the company down in time to prevent the current crisis. In a response, a group of the injured funeral homes are calling for the transfer of preneed oversight to a new “commission” comprised of nine funeral directors and a consumer advocate. If this proposal constitutes the sum total of changes to be made to Chapter 436, it represents nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.
Missouri’s State Board was never provided the tools it needed to effectively regulate the preneed transaction. Chapter 436 was intended to keep the preneed door open by establishing minimal contract and trusting requirements, without providing an effective mechanism for oversight. The State Board was never granted rulemaking authority to even address the transaction as it evolved over the years. Understanding the limitations of a state budget, the State Board’s funding for oversight was also restricted by a $2 per preneed contract fee. Restrictions were also placed on the Attorney General’s office regarding attorneys assigned to the State Board.
To suggest Missouri’s problems are simply a “governance issue” is an insult to the funeral directors who have given up their time to serve on the State Board. From time to time, there have been valid criticisms about whether the State Board members have been influenced by self-interests. But, the overriding goal of the State Board member has been the advancement of the industry’s professional standards. Current State Board members may not understand the economic nuances of all variations of the preneed transaction, but how will an expansion of preneed oversight from 5 funeral directors to 9 funeral directors ensure that objective?
The Chapter 436 review process opened last summer with the question of whether preneed oversight should be moved to an independent state authority. There are advantages and disadvantages to putting preneed oversight under an industry board. The major advantage is that the industry board should be more familiar with a complex transaction. While independent preneed regulators can be very competent (Iowa for example), more often than not, the independent preneed regulator finds the transaction as confusing as any other person. The spokeswoman for the Illinois Comptroller’s Office has acknowledged as much.
Missouri’s legislature should leave preneed oversight with the State Board and focus its attentions on providing that entity the authorities needed for effective oversight.