The need for better preneed oversight is obvious, but regulators often lack resources and expertise. The state of Connecticut made headlines recently for the decision to make budget cuts by de-regulating the death care industry*. Connecticut funeral directors challenged the decision, and the state issued a ‘clarification’ and withdrew the plan. (That’s correct, the funeral industry challenged a plan that would have reduced their regulatory oversight.)
Connecticut still faces the issue of funding for death care oversight, an issue that every state faces. In researching last week’s post about the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight, we reviewed the meeting minutes posted to the Office website. Budget issues have been an on going concern, and the Office and the Advisory Council had discussed the per contract fee approach in one meeting, and then the problems with this approach in another meeting. The per contract fee amounts to a tax on the preneed transaction.
Missouri has one of the nation’s highest preneed taxes ($36, thanks to National Prearranged Services). But, as the Maryland regulators have experienced, it is not clear whether the preneed tax will be sufficient. Oversight has to be provided to even the smallest seller, and ten sales a year won’t pay the time required to make an on-site exam.
Missouri’s preneed oversight is provided by an industry board that is made up primarily of licensed funeral directors. You’ve heard the criticism of this arrangement before (the fox has been put in charge of the chicken coop), but service on the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is a time consuming obligation. These board members are looking for ways to improve the image of the industry, and credit is due to them when they come up with ideas that have merit. One such idea is the posting of disciplinary matters on the Board website so that consumers can perform their own due diligence on an operator before purchasing a preneed contract.
This is not a new concept. The Mississippi Secretary of State posts disciplinary orders on its website. For the most part, the postings are fully adjudicated matters that involve an agreed upon procedure for future conduct. But, the postings also provide some of the facts that gave rise to the disciplinary proceeding. Such postings help to inform not only consumers, but also funeral homes and cemeteries.
*Reprinted with permission from the August 11, 2011 issue of the Memorial Business Journal. To subscribe please call 609-815-8145.