The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest report on the state of state regulation of the death care industry.  As it did in 2003, the GAO selected a handful of states to review in depth, and Illinois was one of those states for 2011 report.  The Illinois review is set out as Appendix IV of the GAO report, and paints a bleak picture of preneed oversight in the Land of Lincoln. 

The Illinois review advises that the Office of the Comptroller has 10 staff positions and 10 field audit positions to provide supervision of preneed and crematories.  While it is the Comptroller’s intent to audit each preneed seller at least once every five years, budget constraints have limited audits to those businesses with the most preneed.  Otherwise, the Comptroller will target sellers based on annual reports that either reflects ‘abnormal fluctuations’ or the lack of a corporate trustee. 

And when the Comptroller does find problems, her staff complains that the law provides them little power to address the situation.  The GAO was advised that the disciplinary process is extremely slow and costly.  That latter comment should raise some eyebrows in Illinois.  It was the Comptroller’s office (albeit a prior officeholder) that pushed through amendments to the Funeral or Burial Funds Act just a short two years ago, and now the staff claims the law has no teeth.

The Illinois review ends with the Comptroller’s office on the defense.  Industry representatives challenged whether the Comptroller’s 2010 legislation provided any additional protections.  The Comptroller responds that “there is no way to be sure if the changes to the laws would have prevented these kinds of incidents, but that there may have been the ability them earlier”.  (Obviously someone left out a few words, but they also failed to confer across the hall with that other someone who was more honest about the law’s lack of teeth.)

The review concludes with the statement “[F]urther, state regulators in Illinois stress the importance of consumer education and whistleblower protections to help prevent and detect future problems.”  If the Comptroller lacks funding and enforcement powers under the current law, who is fooling who?  Can additional legislation be too far away?