Several states have passed laws in the past few years mandating greater preneed oversight. But with state budgets in decline after the 2008 market crash, regulators are hard pressed to find a way to pay for consumer protection.
Colorado’s new law simply states that the contract seller shall bear the cost of its examination.
In failed legislation earlier this year, Kansas sought to finance preneed cemetery oversight through a per contract fee. Sources indicate that Kansas will attempt to implement a $20 per contract fee later this year through new regulations.
Missouri took a hybrid approach last year through seller/agent/provider license fees and a $36 per contract fee. Ten months into the mission to provide preneed oversight, the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors do not have enough data to know how well this approach will work. The first reporting period is still four months away, and no one knows how many preneed contracts have been sold since August 28th. As a consequence, license fees will likely be increased, which hits the smaller operator the hardest.
In a 180 degree change from last year, the State Board is mulling whether to increase the per contract fee, knowing that most sellers pass that fee on the consumer. In response to pressures from consumer advocates, the State Board had originally taken the position that sellers should be required to absorb the $36 fee. The reality is that the costs of preneed oversight are passed on to the consumer in one form or another by the preneed seller, and the per-contract fee provides transparency to the consumer.
Agencies, such as the State Board, that are charged with licensing preneed sellers and agents, need to charge some form of fee to cover the administrative costs of licensure. However, there is justification that the transaction (i.e. the consumer) should primarily bear the cost of examinations and oversight. On the other hand, it is not equitable that consumers bear the costs of disciplinary proceedings for the operator that fails to materially comply with the law.
With the per-contract fee, consumers and operators are provided a clear benchmark of the costs of their state’s preneed protection program. Such a fee will place a burden on regulators who must budget for fixed program costs (such as dedicated staff).