Washington, DC – The Funeral Consumer Alliance (FCA) and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) applaud all four FTC commissioners for voting unanimously in support of an advance notice of proposed rule-making (ANPR) to update the agency’s price disclosure requirement under the agency’s Funeral Rule. This 1984 requirement has discouraged many deceptive and unconscionable practices but has not facilitated price comparisons. To obtain a price list at most funeral homes, one must physically visit the home. Recent FCA and CFA research has shown that only about one-fifth of funeral homes post their price lists online.
“If the internet had existed when the Funeral Rule was issued in 1984, the rule would certainly have required online posting of price lists,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s Executive Director. “Requiring online price disclosures would, for the first time, permit consumers to effectively compare prices,” he added.
Many consumers now face stiff challenges in comparing prices.
- Old persons who are ill or infirm.
- Out-of-town relatives who are planning funerals.
- Anyone without a car.
- After a death, those pressed by hospitals to make a quick decision about the disposal of the body.
Research by FCA and CFA has revealed some of the difficulties consumers currently face in obtaining price lists.
- Email or phone requests for price lists are often ignored or used by funeral homes to aggressively market their services.
- Visits to funeral homes for price lists can be followed by aggressive marketing.
- Collecting price lists from over 50 funeral homes in one city took researchers 15 hours.
Online price disclosure is important because of the lack of price competition in the funeral industry. Huge price ranges exist for the same services. “Our research has shown typical price ranges of 400 to 500 percent for the same service in local markets,” said Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow. “Not all of these price differences reflect differences in service quality,” he added.
Online price disclosure would benefit all consumers, not just those who compare prices. “Research has shown that the easy availability of price information discourages price gouging,” noted CFA’s Brobeck. “In part, this is because third parties, such as consumer groups and journalists, can access and report on prices much more easily,” he added.
Requiring online price disclosure would cost funeral homes virtually nothing. They already have digitized price lists and could easily post them on their websites or Facebook pages, as about one-fifth currently do. California required online disclosure of funeral prices in 2013, and FCA and CFA are unaware of any complaints from their funeral homes about compliance costs.
Until there is required price disclosure, FCA and CFA suggest that consumers plan ahead and visit at least several funeral homes to collect price lists. “Funerals are one of the most expensive services that consumers will purchase in their lifetime,” said FCA’s Slocum. “Consumers can potentially save thousands of dollars by comparing funeral home price lists,” he added. The typical funeral, according to the industry, costs over $7,000. Elaborate funerals can cost $20,000 or more.