Date: Tue, Jul 13, 1999 7:36 PM
Subject: Funeral Rule Review
Since the funeral rule was first established to protect and educate consumers, it seems a logical extension today to include nontraditional providers of goods and services. Why should a cemetery, casket store or Internet site have a different standard to follow than a funeral home when providing similar goods and services?
The prohibition of a casket handling fee is probably more of a hardship on the independent, family owned funeral home than on the corporate-owned. If the small funeral home cannot hold the merchandise sale and retain the accompanying profit, then they are forced to obtain their net profits from service charges. Yet service charges are the easiest prices to compare when shopping. It seems that the FTC must decide how it wishes to facilitate and encourage the free market in this industry.
If governance in this issue is going to simply protect the consumer, then all providers of funeral goods and services must meet the same disclosure standards with no extra fees placed on the consumer for their choice(s) of providers. If, however, governance is used to balance not only the interest of the consumer but also the makeup of the industry between independent and corporate owned entities, then the FTC must determine how best to protect the public interest while encouraging free market principles. If a casket handling fee is an important element in maintaining the independents, and having independents is important to the protection of the consumer, then perhaps the fee is necessary. The non-declinable fee should be maintained.
Some people may balk at it, but the truth is they want to use the facilities or they would not be there. Often people do not realize the cost of maintaining those buildings and keeping the staff available. I would love to shop at Saks and pay K-Mart prices, but that is unreasonable. The same principle applies in this industry. There are differences within the market, and the public should not be led to believe that all prices should be the same across the board. I hope the FTC considers changes to the Funeral Rule carefully and moves forward in a way that balances the interests of all.