Dodd Releases GAO Report on State
Death Care Regulation, Enforcement
by Robert M. Fells, Esq., general counsel
The long-awaited investigative report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was released on September 11 by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT). The study was commissioned by Sen. Dodd and by Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) in early 2002 and was publicly supported by the ICFA. To nobody's surprise, the 62-page report found that "states vary in their approach to regulating the various segments of the death care industry. ... The majority of states regulate funeral homes, crematories, cemeteries and preneed sales of funeral plans, although the specific licensing requirements vary across the states. Fewer states regulate third-party sales of funeral goods," which the GAO interpreted as including those made by monument retailers. In addition, the GAO stated, "Most states also require inspections of funeral homes and crematories, but fewer states require inspection of cemeteries."
With regard to enforcement actions, the GAO report states that since January 1, 2000, "a majority of states have taken enforcement actions against funeral homes, funeral directors, or embalmers for violations of a variety of state rules or regulations. Fewer states, however, have taken such action against other industry segments." The GAO points out that "not all cemeteries are regulated. ...Cemeteries operated by municipalities or religious organizations are exempt from regulation in many states."
The following GAO findings are of particular importance to industry professionals:
1) "It must be noted that a low number of enforcement actions taken by a state may not be indicative of lax enforcement efforts, but rather could be reflective of a general lack of problems involving the death care industry in that state"; and
2) "Today, a growing number of consumers who purchase funeral and cemetery goods and services have shopped around in advance."
The report includes nine appendices that compare regulation in six key states: California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York and Texas. Other appendices discuss the consolidation of the death care industry, the interstate transit of human remains and resources available to assist consumers in death-care transactions. Among the several organizations listed as offering information resources to the public, only the ICFA was identified as providing consumer complaint mediation services, through the Cemetery Consumer Service Council.
Sen. Dodd was quoted by the Associated Press as stating that the GAO report "helps shine a light on an industry that impacts millions of Americans, and will hopefully weed out [the] bad apples." The AP story can be viewed on the ICFA Web site by clicking here.
ICFA Government and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Irwin W. Shipper, CCE, stated: "This new report is not dissimilar to the 1999 report where the GAO found a low volume of complaints, especially cemetery complaints. We have been monitoring consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission over the last few years and I think it's fair to say that there are no emerging patterns of industry misconduct that have not already been addressed by the FTC Funeral Rule in its present form or that otherwise would require congressional oversight. It would be difficult to claim that the new GAO report supports federal intervention in the regulation of our industry."
At this point, it is not certain what follow up action will be taken by Sen. Dodd or Rep. Foley. ICFA members willbe updated on all important developments.