|From: "Blair Nelsen" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Aug 2, 1999 7:34 AM
Subject: 16 CFR Part 453
August 2, 1999
Re: 16 CFR Part 453
As part-owner of a funeral service establishment, and as Legislative Chairman of the Association of Independent Funeral Homes of Virginia, I wish to comment on the proposed extension of the Funeral Rule to include cemeteries and retail casket stores.
The purpose of the Funeral Rule is to protect the consumer during the procurement of funeral services, a goal which is worthwhile. However, funeral services require more than the use of a funeral home. Depending upon method of disposition cremation or burial the consumer also must deal with cemetery sales personnel and, possibly, casket and/or monument retailers. Yet, the consumer only receives the protection of the Funeral Rule when dealing with the funeral professional. It is ironic that the consumer is protected only when dealing with the one individual among these groups who is a certified professional and has met extensive training and educational requirements, including but not limited to: mortuary school; supervised apprenticeship; national and state examination; state licensure; continuing education requirements; and, possibly, state insurance licensure.
Funeral service licensees are extensively trained and educated in state and federal laws, rules and regulations, and are subject to severe sanction for violations, including possible loss of license and livelihood. However, in most states, no regulation of the related death care professions exists.
So, when a consumer deals with a funeral service professional, he may be certain that he is being dealt with fairly or, if not, that remedies short of legal action are available. But, when dealing with a cemetery, monument or casket retailer, no such remedy exists. These sales personnel are often poorly trained, with little or no experience in the industry, and work on a commission basis. Therefore, they are motivated to maximize sales without regard for the consumer. If a problem arises with one of these persons, frequently only litigation is available. Faced with the prospect of lengthy and costly legal battles, the consumer often chooses not to pursue the matter. The result is no corrective or punitive action, with the sales person free to victimize the next consumer.
Funeral homes and cemeteries overlap in the provision of many services and merchandise. In most states, cemeteries sell vaults and monuments, as do funeral homes, and in some states they also sell caskets. The Funeral Rule covers vaults and caskets when sold by funeral homes, yet these same protections vanish if the purchase is made from cemeteries. Indeed, a funeral director faces severe sanction if misrepresentations are made regarding merchandise. Yet, most cemeteries routinely portray their concrete grave liners as vaults and no action is taken. Furthermore, funeral homes are required to accept third party caskets and are prohibited from charging handling fees for their use. Cemeteries not only charge administrative and handling fees for third party monuments, markers and vaults, some now prohibit the installation on their property of merchandise purchased from other providers.
Last week, our firm served a family whose loved one was being interred in a cemetery owned by Stewart Enterprises. The family was informed that they must purchase a vault from the cemetery, as the cemetery prohibited vault installations by third parties in the section where the interment would occur. The family then cancelled their vault purchase from us and, instead, purchased the cemeteryıs "vault", a concrete grave liner.
Although I realize the cemetery industry is in opposition to the extension of the funeral rule, I find amusing their argument that our industries are separate and different as a reason to oppose such action. The funeral and cemetery industries have converged, a fact most readily illustrated by the increasing construction of "combinations", the common ownership of funeral homes and cemeteries by both public and private companies, and the representation of both groups by the International Cemetery and Funeral Association - a trade group of funeral homes, cemeteries and monument dealers.
In 1998, the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted legislation, at the urging of the Independent Funeral Homes of Virginia (IFHV), which created a Cemetery Board to regulate cemeteries and providers of monuments, markers and vaults. As President of the IFHV, I was proud to lead this lobbying effort which will protect Virginia's consumers and "level the playing field" for all providers of funeral goods and services. I urge the FTC to provide these protections to all Americans and to extend the Funeral Rule to cover cemeteries, monument dealers and casket retailers. Doing so truly will protect the consumer and ensure fair competition among the various segments of the death care industry.
Very truly yours,
Blair H. Nelsen