When the FTC announced its routine review of the Funeral Rule in 2020, the Funeral Consumer Alliance and about half the country’s state attorney generals responded with complaints about online advertising by the funeral industry. The criticism of funeral home websites led the FTC to conduct its own research of online advertising. For a four month period beginning June 2021 (when COVID made travel to a funeral home for planning difficult), the FTC staff visited 200 funeral home websites to judge the complaints by the AGs and the FCA. That research culminated in a report titled “Shopping for Funeral Services Online” that was released with the notice of the October 20, 2022 FTC meeting on whether to initiate the rulemaking process for amending the Funeral Rule. That staff report ended with the following statement:
In conclusion, many of the funeral providers reviewed operated websites that offer prospective purchasers a wide range of information, including the providers’ location and how to contact them. In most instances, the websites provided at least some information about some of the goods and services offered. However, in most instances people viewing these websites would have a difficult time determining what prices were charged by a provider or comparing prices between providers. Most of the providers did not include any price information and those that did offer such information typically provided only partial information. Consumers planning funerals would, in almost all instances, need to contact the businesses directly or visit the providers in person to get enough information to make informed price decisions or to compare prices.
Despite advance notice that the FTC focus would be online funeral advertising, few of the industry commentators addressed that issue. The few that did suggested that states could better regulate online advertising or that the FTC would make matters worse. We could identify with only one commentator who endorsed the need for addressing online advertising but that the FTC should use caution to not over burden small funeral homes.
The comments of the individual Commissioners following the October 20th hearing were very telling. Unlike the other FTC matter heard that day, the Commissioners were in agreement of endorsing the staff report and the advance notice of the rulemaking process. This train is on the tracks and it does appear that the Funeral Rule will be amended to require GPLs be posted on funeral home websites. While arguments can be made for and against, one aspect of the staff report suggests to us that the FTC will ultimately require online posting of the GPL. If the FTC requires GPLs to be posted on line, Funeral Rule investigations become an online process for the FTC staff and their enforcement budget will go further. No more of those dreaded Funeral Rule sweeps. In the near future, the FTC investigator will be just the click of a button away.