The New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, acknowledging it is likely that the Federal Trade Commission will mandate funeral homes to place their General Price Lists online in some form, has stressed to the FTC that funeral homes should maintain some discretion on whether to engage in online marketing.
Those funeral homes without websites should not be forced to create them, the NJSFDA said in additional comments submitted to the commission following a workshop held on September 7, 2023 to explore changes to the FTC’s Funeral Rule. Those with existing websites, however, should only be required to embed a PDF or a “clearly labeled link directly to the GPL on the home page or main landing page of the provider’s website,” the NJSFDA said.
Any changes to the Funeral Rule concerning the online placement of GPLs should clarify that the exact location of the link or PDF should be left up to the funeral homes, as long as it provides maximum visibility to the consumer. In addition, any business posting its GPL online should be exempted from FTC Undercover Price Shoppers because of the readily available information.
Calling the use of a website a “best business practice” for funeral homes, the NJSFDA nonetheless said that a regulatory body should not mandate that a business create a website so a price list could be posted on it.
“Consumers who engage funeral providers who are not operating in a fashion commensurate with their technological level can select another business that can better respond to them in their desired manner,” the NJSFDA wrote. “In this way, the Rule should not seek to legislate business best practices.”
Calling social media sites “volatile” and saying that funeral providers lack full control of their presence on the platforms, the NJSFDA said that communications and information on social media should not fall under the Funeral Rule.
The workshop drew several funeral service organizations and information clearinghouses, along with consumer groups, all of whom provided input into the FTC’s proposed changes to the Funeral Rule. Several other potential changes were also addressed during the meeting, including:
Basic Service Fees. The NJSFDA is proposing three tiers of non-declinable basic service fees, based on the type of service rendered. Currently, there is only one non-declinable fee, which includes nine basic charges. In addition to the currently non-declinable fee, the NJSFDA said the FTC should allow for a reduced fee consisting of six of the nine charges, which would be used for families requesting immediate burials or direct cremations plus several other goods and services. The association is also proposing a minimum non-declinable fee, consisting of three of the nine charges, which could be used by families that arranged for cremation or burial elsewhere but now wish to engage the funeral home for a memorial service.
The current structure does not allow for pricing flexibility for consumers, the NJSFDA said.
“As clearly articulated by the majority of panelists throughout the day, the inability to appropriately and competitively charge for services that vary greatly between each consumer has become problematic and an unintended price consequence of the ‘non-declinable fee’ originated out of the Rule,” the NJSFDA wrote.
A more detailed explanation of the association's position concerning basic service fees can be found in the January 2023 column by NJSFDA Executive Director and CEO George R. Kelder Jr., CFSP.
Third-Party Fee Disclosures. The NJSFDA argued emphatically that funeral homes should not be forced to disclose third-party crematory fees on their GPLs. In New Jersey, the association pointed out, funeral homes are prohibited from owning and operating crematories (except for a few who are grandfathered in). Therefore, placing crematory fees on GPLs become problematic because crematories can change their pricing at will and with little notice, which would force funeral homes to scramble to update their prices lists quickly and at additional costs. Third-party fees should be the purview of the states, the association said.
Embalming Disclosures. The association supports changes to the Funeral Rule that would require a funeral provider to disclosure their embalming policy. To that end, the NJSFDA suggested language that could be used for funeral homes in states where embalming is required, in states where embalming is not required and in situations where a funeral home has a policy either requiring embalming or prohibiting embalming.
Alternative Forms of Disposition. The NJSFDA stated that the FTC should not consider rules concerning alternative forms of disposition, such as natural organic reduction or alkaline hydrolysis because not all states have legalized these methods.
“In the future, based on consumer acceptance data, consideration could then be given to making disclosure language relating to alternative forms of disposition consistent with any required disclosure language currently in place or being considered for direct cremation and immediate burial,” the NJSFDA wrote.
Read the NJSFDA's comments here.