On December 12th, a Missouri coalition of NPS preneed providers will have a second opportunity to state their case for legislation to establish a NPS recovery plan. As we noted back in September, that coalition should anticipate a tepid reception from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors (and much of the Missouri funeral industry). Funeral operators may be sympathetic to the harsh economic realities of the guaranty fund’s ‘fixed recovery’, but few operators perceive how those future financial losses are ‘their problem’. Legislators cannot be as dismissive because the coalition is warning that it is a matter of time before funeral homes start to fail, and when that happens, consumers will ultimately suffer the financial loss. Not knowing whether two funeral homes or twenty funeral homes are at risk, the legislature gave the coalition a hearing to present a plan. The details remain vague, but it has been reported that the plan calls for a “mandated” preneed trust. If those rumors prove accurate, the plan has two major hurdles that could block its takeoff.
In concept, a state wide, cooperative preneed trust could provide financial relief to the NPS provider. A master trust could provide participating funeral homes the economies of scale to reduce administration expenses and increase investment performance. As a collective group, the NPS providers may be able to achieve a return that not only offsets the cost increases of the future preneed business, but also some of the costs of the NPS contracts yet to be performed.
But, any thought of using investment returns of future business to fund old business would have to be closely regulated. The trust cannot take investment returns from Funeral Home A contracts and allocate them to Funeral Home B contracts. Nor can the trust take investment returns from non-guaranteed contract a001 and allocate them to NPS contract b002. With the proper administration, the investment return of Funeral Home A’s new guaranteed contracts (or old Pre-SB1 guaranteed contracts) could be split with Funeral Home A’s NPS contracts. Such a split would occur only after the proper income/expense allocations have been made to originating accounts. Under Missouri law, the consumer of one of those new accounts could chose to designate a new provider, and transfer the entire account value (including the amounts allocated to the NPS contracts) to a new trust. Consequently, the level of administration required for such allocations would be complicated. If the NPS recovery plan should seek to short cut that administration with a fixed rate of return (and using excess investment returns to fund the NPS contracts), then the plan should be rejected.
The other hurdle to takeoff is the plan obtaining the requisite trust assets for economies of scale. The rumor is that the NPS recovery plan would require all Missouri preneed sellers to participate in the trust. (If mandatory participation can be required for the Obama health plan, then it can be required for the NPS recovery plan.) Kansas regulators floated a similar idea a few years ago and quickly withdrew the suggestion after hearing the initial response from operators.