ICCFA Opposes FL Hospice Application to Offer Funeral/Burial/Cremation Services
by ICCFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
In early December, the ICCFA filed comments with the Florida Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services in opposition to the application of Hope Hospice of Southwest Florida to offer funeral services, including burials and cremation, to its clients and families.
A new entity would be established by Hope Hospice known as Hope Memorial Care Inc. of Fort Myers to provide the funeral-related services. In its comments, the ICCFA states: "As far as we know, the application in question creates a case of first impression whereby a hospice desires to provide funeral-related services for its clients who, by definition, are terminally ill. The ICCFA is extremely concerned over the adverse public policy consequences when end-of-life caregivers start recommending services unrelated to the personal care they normally provide, and the organization is compensated."
The ICCFA points out that this issue is analogous to the reasons why "many states have laws prohibiting funeral directors from recommending a cemetery to a family if compensation is received due to the referral. It's just a bad practice. The ICCFA believes these same public policy considerations illustrate why funeral homes and cemeteries should not be allowed to own or operate hospitals, or why a doctor should not have a business interest in a funeral home or cemetery. To the best of our knowledge, hospices do not own pharmaceutical companies or sell medical supplies, nor should they. Few would disagree that such ancillary services could seriously compromise the integrity of the mission of hospice."
The ICCFA observed that "a similar type of conflict of interest controversy is raging in other states regarding the role of funeral homes involved in tissue recovery and harvesting. At the very least, additional regulation is needed, but some maintain that mortuaries should not be involved in the process under any circumstances for the same reason present in this situation: bad public policy."
The ICCFA comments concluded by warning that a bad precedent would be set in Florida should the Hope Hospice application be approved: "Florida consumers should be protected against any organization taking advantage of them at the time of the death of a loved one." The full text of the ICCFA comments can be viewed at the Association's web page at www.iccfa.com.
Handicapping the new Congress
When the first session of the 110th Congress convenes in Washington, D.C., during the first week of January, more than the majorities of both houses and committee chairmanships will have changed from Republican to Democratic Party control. The agendas pushing various issues, including consumer protection and business regulation, will also move in a new direction.
One of the big questions for funeral service is whether the so-called "Dodd Bill" will be introduced again into the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), sought to codify the FTC Funeral Rule, that is, turn the agency regulation into a federal statute, and to add other requirements to funeral homes, cemeteries and related sellers.
The Dodd bill had been introduced into two previous Congresses, the 107th and the 108th, without any action taking place on the legislation. However, during those times the Democrats were not in the majority.
As of this writing, a number of Senate committee chairmanship assignments have been made that could affect the progress of such proposed legislation. For example, Sen. Dodd will chair the Banking Committee. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will be chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy with Dodd the next highest ranking Democrat on the committee. The HELP Committee would most likely review the Dodd bill and move it forward. The Senate Special Committee on Aging will be chaired by Sen. Herb Kohl (WI), a fourth term-incumbent who was re-elected with an impressive 67 percent of the vote.
Six years ago, the Aging Committee under the chairmanship of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley held two days of hearings on funeral industry sales practices that were broadcast over C-SPAN; repeat telecasts continued for weeks thereafter.
While nobody can predict the legislative priorities of the new majority party at this point in time, Democratic majorities have often provided a forum for consumer activists and business critics in testifying at public hearings and spearheading legislative proposals.
The ICCFA closely monitors the activities in Congress, the federal agencies, and in the courts on a daily basis. The new year has the potential of being politically extremely active for the association and our members.