Three years ago we asked that question with regard to the power struggle occurring between the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors and the Missouri Division of Professional Registration staff. That post was influenced by our experiences with preneed regulators from other states, who range from elected politicians to the revolving door bureaucrat. I would always prefer the experience and stability of a Dennis Britson or a Mack Smith, but they honed their skills over decades, and Missouri is under a bit of pressure to get reform rolling. With the Missouri Legislature having vested preneed supervision with the industry, we saw hope that Missouri could establish a unique structure where the experience of the industry would mesh with a staff with long term commitments. But silly me; the regulations drafted in response to a December vote on insurance assignments provide the answer to “Who is the Boss?” It is the Governor.

I must confess that my mind drifts at times when I attend the State Board meetings. Okay, I also check emails from time to time when the Executive Director gives her reports. But, the regulation proposals leave me wondering whether I was in the wrong room last December. But, Mr. Otto did whisper to me from time to time during the meeting I thought was the State Board’s. Maybe we were at a MFDEA meeting? Then again, I recall a unanimous vote that defined the insurance assignment as a preneed contract that was to be exempt from the $36 fee.

My warning from the “Who is the Boss” post in 2010 was this:

Death care operators are often frustrated when regulators take actions that demonstrate a lack of understanding of the business (or worse yet, a misunderstanding of applicable laws). The risk to both the death care operator and consumer is when the elected preneed regulator allows politics to influence the reform process. Elected regulators may pose the greatest challenge to developing effective preneed supervision, and then maintaining that system.

It is obvious the Governor doesn’t read this blog. Since 2010, an elected politician has made insurance assignments our preneed reform priority. I get it. The excess insurance proceeds could help offset the benefits paid to nursing homes, and Chapter 208 requires a Chapter 436 preneed contract. The State doesn’t want to revisit Chapter 436. It would be easier to manipulate the language of SB1 to get the desired result. (It’s not like the industry doesn’t do it too.) It took the State Board 18 months to offer a compromise, and one that was a win-win for the state and the industry. But, you are overplaying this hand by demanding the $36 per contract fee.

For the past two years, the industry and Board members have asked what the Division really needs in terms of fees to conduct exams. The answers have been evasive at best, but I could defend that response because the examination procedures are work in progress. But, your regulation proposals indicate that “The costs for the Board to administer preneed contracts is the same per contract, regardless of the value of the preneed contract.” If that is the case, then what is the cost per contract to perform a preneed examination? I find the Division’s budget for the State Board confusing, but the numbers attached to the agenda are significant. Is the Division receiving more that it needs, and if so, where do those funds go?

Up to this point, the examination procedures have focused on recordkeeping and confirming that consumer funds were deposited to banks and insurance companies. At some later date those procedures will need to look at how those funds are administered and paid out to funeral homes. But, until then, why is the $36 fee required on a transaction where the funeral director does not receive funds until after a death has occurred?

Three years ago I defended the slow pace of the Division, and advised the industry that reform required a shared responsibility between the Division and the State Board.  Accordingly, please respect the Legislature and let the State Board perform its role for reform under SB1.