FTC weighs requiring funeral homes to post prices online
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Death is emotional. It can also be expensive. “People don’t know that the prices between different funeral homes in their city are wildly different,” said Josh Slocum with the Funeral Consumers Alliance. “I don’t mean a 15% difference. I mean a 400 to 500% difference.”
By law, funeral homes must give a general price list to anyone who visits a funeral home in person or requests it over the phone. Now, the Federal Trade Commission will consider updating the long-standing Funeral Rule to require funeral homes to also post prices online. Supporters say the proposed rule change would encourage competition and allow consumers to conveniently compare prices. “In a sample of 1,000 funeral homes across the country in 35 states, only 18% of the websites we saw had complete price information,” Slocum said. “We think that consumers need this information. We think that they deserve it, and we know that almost every other industry voluntarily discloses their prices.”
A similar review of funeral home websites by the FTC revealed that 24% of them had a general price list listed online. “People are at their most vulnerable when they’re grieving. That was the insight behind the FTC’s Funeral Rule, which first took effect in 1984. The goal was to prevent consumers from being taken advantage of during a moment of deep grief and loss,” FTC Chair Lina Khan wrote in a statement. “Stories persist about consumers spending hours trying to answer the most basic questions about how much it will cost to bury their loved ones. In the internet era, it’s hard to see why anyone should have to physically visit or call multiple funeral homes just to compare prices.”
Groups representing funeral homes say posting prices online should not be mandated. “Bottom line is we believe in the Funeral Rule, " said Karoline Davidson, vice president of the Arizona Funeral Cemetery and Cremation Association. “We believe in transparency with pricing, but it should be up to the businesses to decide whether or not they want to post that pricing online.”
Davidson said small businesses may encounter challenges trying to keep up with technology and dynamic pricing. “It might not be an option for some funeral homes and businesses because they don’t have the resources or the tech savvy. If you’re a family owned and operated business, you don’t have a webmaster.”
According to Davidson, there are also important variables that consumers may need help understanding on a funeral home’s price list. “Oftentimes we’ll get phone calls or someone will be online saying, ‘What’s your cost for cremation?’ Well are you interested in any services or ceremony? Are you just looking for the cost of cremation itself? There’s a lot more conversation that needs to be had. Just like buying a house, you can’t just call up a realtor and say how much does a house cost? Well, what neighborhood do you want to be in? Do you want a two story or a one story?” she said. “It’s much more amenable for families to be able to meet with funeral professionals, express what they’re looking for and then for that funeral professional to say well this is what we have to offer.”
The Funeral Rule, in its current state, gives consumers several rights, including the right to only purchase the funeral arrangements they want. Consumers also have the right to provide the funeral home with a casket or urn that is purchased elsewhere.
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