More than one funeral director has expressed the opinion that the State Board should never have been given rule making authority. We’ll never know, but if the State Board had rulemaking authority 22 years ago, it could have implemented rules to help enforce NPS’ 1990 settlement agreement, and thereby avoided that company’s collapse. But equally important, rule making authority provides the State Board the means to clarify the ambiguities and gaps that exist in Senate Bill. No 1. This is as much to assist the preneed seller who has a business practice that does not fall neatly within the law as it does the State Board attempting to address how that practice should be regulated.
But, Missouri’s first attempt to pass a ‘conventional’ preneed regulation has been a trying exercise for the State Board, its staff and the industry, with mutual frustrations getting the better of everyone. All concerned may have been spoiled by the level of cooperation exhibited when emergency regulations were needed to keep Missouri’s preneed industry operating. Had it not been for those emergency regulations, Missouri’s preneed industry would have come to a screeching halt for months.
Following the passage of the emergency rules, the State Board staff recommended that the industry’s other SB1 complaints be tabled to provide the financial examination process the time required for Division personnel to ‘get their arms around the issues". That made perfect sense to this author, that is until the insurance assignment became the focal point for the Board’s first regulation.
The political realities are that the State of Missouri needs revenues, and the excess insurance proceeds paid to funeral homes should be paid to the State pursuant to RSMo 208.010.7(4) before refunded to the families of assistance recipients. If funeral homes use the spend down provisions to their benefit when meeting with families, then they should also have a duty to comply with Chapter 208. But, the problem has been that families were allowed to exclude insurance policies for asset testing without a preneed contract, and the drafters of SB1 were focused on NPS and the sale of preneed contracts.
SB1 has flaws, and the Division once acknowledged that corrective legislation would eventually be needed. Our question is whether the Board’s first regulation is indication that the State now has a double standard when it comes to preneed regulations and the need for corrective legislation: a restrictive interpretation of SB1 for the industry and a liberal interpretation for itself?
Like SB1, the Board’s first regulation proposal was forced by the State, and has its own flaws. The proposal is too broad in attempting to define all insurance assignments and beneficiary designations as the consideration that triggers SB1. The proposal also extends the preneed contract fee without an explanation of the examination procedures needed for the transaction. Then to buttress the position that the regulation binds all outstanding insurance assignments, the State relies upon a confidential legal memorandum as having put the industry on notice. If the industry does not find the State’s rationale credible, many funeral homes may refuse to comply. We find it frustrating that the State could accomplish most of what it wants without sacrificing credibility. That credibility will be important to getting funeral homes to embrace the future changes required for compliance with SB1. It remains to be seen whether the State will be flexible with the industry in achieving their mutual goals.