|Suburban Funeral Home, Inc.
2336 Meeting Street
North Charleston, SC 29405
Gerard H. (Skip) Mikell, Sr.
July 8, 1999
Subject: Comments concerning the Trade Regulation Rule on Funeral Industry Practices
The following comments are submitted as a member of the funeral service profession with the hope of shedding some light on the issues and helping to refine the regulation.
Definition of "Funeral Provider", should be revised to mean "any person, partnership, association or corporation that sells or offers to sell funeral goods and services or funeral goods or funeral services". This revision would make the Funeral Rule applicable to anyone selling or offering to sell funeral goods and or funeral services directly to the public. This would include Burial Associations, Memorial Societies, Cremation Societies, monument dealers and cemeteries that sell vaults and caskets, as they all provide funeral related goods and services to the public.
Disclosure of mark-up of "all cash advance items" may no be practical or practicable. Certain items such as "Paid Newspaper Notices" are normally charged for at an average price rather than an exact price because it may not always be possible to ascertain the exact cost of notices prior to the end of the Arrangements Conference.
The Rule requires the funeral director to provide a completed Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected at the conclusion of the Arrangements Conference. The alternative is to list these items as "an item selected later", exclude it from the Statement, charge for it later and that is how we got to the Rule in the first place. Revise the disclosure on "Cash Advance Items" to include, "where it is practicable" when referring to these items and clearly state that "this does not include any item where the actual final cost is already known by the funeral director". The aim of this section was to pass on discounts to the purchaser. In most cases the discount is contingent on cash payment to the third party. Most funeral homes provide discounts to their customers if the funeral bill is paid in cash conversely the funeral director in most cases renders cash and waits to be paid. If a cash discount is allowed it is because the funeral director made the cash payment not the purchaser.
A sure way to resolve this would be to amend the Rule to require the funeral purchaser to pay cash for all "Cash Advance Items", then passing on the discounts experienced would be both practicable and enforceable. Caution this will create a hardship to a large segment of the American public who will not always have this ready cash.
Casket Handling Fees Clarification, by including a clear statement, "The Funeral Rules prohibits the charging of fees or tying requirements by funeral directors in receiving and handling of caskets from third party providers. However this prohibition in no way prevents the receiving funeral director from requiring inspections of the merchandise by the purchaser to protect the receiving funeral home of liability claims resulting from damage to the merchandise."
The non-declinable service fee is incorrectly stated in the request for comments. The fee is correctly stated as the Fee for Services of "Funeral Director and Staff and Overhead". Please refer to the January 11, 1994 revision as listed in the Federal Register.
As to the request for unbundling of charges, this request exceeds the public's "right to know". This is one step away requiring funeral homes to disclose the cost of compensating staff and contractors. Automobile manufactures are not required to disclose the cost of auto assembly or the cost of paint or the wholesale price of tires for new cars. The request to disclose the cost of cremations performed by contractors is ridiculous and should not be included for consideration unless the Commission is prepared to address the fees paid by hospitals to primary surgeons and the fees paid by those primary surgeons to "ghost surgeons". This request has such far, reaching implications. Auto repair shops could be required to disclose the fees paid to machine shops and on and on. Just dump that one.
The revision of the "General Price List" to include a fee for private viewing. A survey of most General Price List will quickly reveal to the staff that most firms already include a price for "Bathing and Disinfecting when no embalming is performed" and a Fee for "Private Viewing" which does not include any funeral rites. This is currently not a requirement but could easily be included.
There is no charge made for any services involving the donation of a body to medical science except those charges made for removal, "Transfer of Remains". These charges are already included on the General Price List. It is probably not necessary to include a new, separate charge for "Transfer of Remains for Medical Donation" because it will most likely be the same charge. The staff should consult with medical schools and state anatomical agencies on this matter. Most donations do not include the remains of persons having been ill for long periods prior to death, as these bodies do not generally make good specimens for anatomical study. Hospital deaths are the more likely candidates and the agencies that handle them also make provisions for the transfer of the remains.
The Rule should be revised to more clearly define "a triggering event". The Rule in one section refers to providing General Price List prior to the Arrangement Conference and in other sections refers to the distribution of General Price List in conjunction with the Arrangement Conference. This vagueness contributes to the failure of many funeral directors to make early distribution of the General Price List. The prior version of the rule made the triggering event easier to define. The current version leaves the funeral director to interpret the meaning of the rule. The staff investigates failures to distribute and finds that there is no clear pattern to show how and when a firm distributes the General prices List. A "Catch 22" is created because of a lack of a clear definition of a "triggering event". Fix this and eliminate the problem with distribution of the General Price List.
Every time a new item is added to the price list, an item that was formerly a professional courtesy becomes a new charge. The staff should consider this when reviewing the "FAMSA" request. It is clearly evident to me that the average price of "services" has increased since the passage of the Rule. I am a supporter of the itemized statement, the General Price List and the disclosures that are the foundation of the Rule. I do not support the inclusion of wholesale prices of merchandise unless all American retailers are required to disclose their wholesale prices, i.e. the "Cost of the Rental Casket". When the purchaser is informed of the fee charged for using the Rental Casket that is enough unless major rental car companies are required to disclose the cost of the cars they offer for rent. We should not sink to the ridiculous to protect the public. At some point we must assume that the public is intelligent enough to process the information and make good decisions.