We don’t doubt that a lack of online pricing information by funeral homes hurts consumers. Now we know just how much that it does.
A report that was released by consumer advocate Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) indicates that, depending on the location, this lack of transparency by funeral homes could cost consumers hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on their funeral choices.
As we note in our report, “The Mourning After: Funeral Home Rip-offs,” Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule mandates that funeral directors must provide an itemized list of prices and services, which is called a general price list (GPL), to anyone who asks for one in person or over the phone.
Of course, most consumers now perform shopping research over the internet, yet the Funeral Rule, which last was updated in 1994, makes no provision for this shift. In our report, we found that most funeral homes don’t post their GPL on their website.
FCA’s report compares prices of independent funeral-home operators and those that are part of the Service Corporation International (SCI) network, under the brand name Dignity Memorial. The prices were for three types of funerals: a simple cremation, a simple burial and a full-service burial. Data were collected from 10 markets. FCA notes that none of the at least 1,000 SCI funeral homes posts its GPL online.
It comes as no surprise to us that FCA found that SCI’s prices are much higher than are those of the independents. For a simple cremation, the median price by an independent funeral home that discloses prices online is $2,066, compared with $2,700 for SCI. For a simple burial, the median price is $2,155 for the independents and $2,845 for SCI. Finally, for a full-service funeral, which includes embalming, a viewing, a funeral ceremony and graveside ceremony, the median price is $5,135 at an independent funeral home and $7,705 at an SCI funeral home.
Further, FCA found that the median prices of SCI’s services are lower than are those of the independent funeral homes in only three of 24 possible cases—and none by more than 9 percent. However, it also found that the median prices of SCI’s services are at least 50 percent higher than are those of the independents in nine of the 24 cases.
In July 2016, FCA petitioned FTC to update the Funeral Rule to mandate online pricing. Joshua Slocum, who is the executive director of FCA, says he expects FTC to issue a recommendation by the end of 2017 and make a decision in 2018. However, he couldn’t say whether FTC will change its rule, particularly in light of the pro-business Trump administration.
“This is one of the smallest and easiest asks we’ve ever made of the funeral industry,” Slocum tells Consumers Digest, adding that it would cost funeral homes nothing to simply upload their GPL to their website. “I know we’re asking for something reasonable; I hope the FTC will agree with us.”