The funeral industry may grumble about the FTC’s Funeral Rule, but two disclosures required by that law play important roles in the preneed transaction. The general price list is often used by funeral homes as a tool for comparing prices with the competition. And when a prearranged funeral is performed, the statement of goods and services can be used to demonstrate the savings a family received by virtue of the preneed contract’s price protections.
Consumer advocates also utilize the general price list as a tool to educate the public on funeral costs. Periodic price surveys are facilitated by the Funeral Rule requirements. In an effort to expand its information base, the Kansas City chapter of the Funeral Consumer Alliance recently made a request of the metropolitan area’s cemeteries. However, a significant number of the cemeteries did not respond.
While some cemeteries may have been challenged to respond due to staffing issues or a lack of resources, there were non-respondents who were not comfortable making a public disclosure of what they charge. These types of disclosures are at The Bereaved Consumers Bill of Rights Act. Cemeteries are not subject to the Funeral Rule disclosure requirements, and the bill sponsored by Illinois Representative Bobby Rush would change that.
Representative Rush’s bill is a product of the Burr Oak cemetery tragedy, which had little to do with disclosures about the costs of cemetery property, merchandise and services. Regardless, the Burr Oak circumstances have been used to justify legislation for an expansion of the Funeral Rule to the cemetery industry. The cemetery industry has strongly opposed the legislation, citing that the penalties far outweigh the benefits to the consumers. Funeral trade groups have generally endorsed the bill. The funeral industry’s reasoning can be simply stated as what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
The cemetery industry’s objections to the expansion of the Funeral Rule have merit. Fines for technical violations are substantial, and could be devastating to smaller cemeteries. And, Federal enforcement of the Funeral Rule has been spotty at best.
But just as the KC branch of the Funeral Consumer Alliance has found out, gathering pricing information about cemeteries is difficult to do in the absence of the general price list requirement. The ICCFA posted model recommendations more than 13 years ago, but cemeteries have been slow to embrace them. Many cemeteries have also been slow to implement preneed sales programs. Economic survival dictates that cemeteries become more proactive regarding preneed. With that move will come the need for the disclosures required by the Funeral Rule.
The Kansas City chapter of the FCA will hold its annual Day of the Dead meeting to discuss the results of its cemetery price survey, and to press similar issues with this author. To download the KC FCA newsletter (and cemetery survey results) click here.