The coronavirus pandemic may help push the funeral business into the internet age.
Funeral homes must give a detailed price list to anyone who requests one in person, but they aren’t required to post prices on their websites.
Consumer advocates and members of the public are urging the Federal Trade Commission, which is reviewing its 1984 funeral rule, to make online pricing mandatory, among other changes.
The rule, adopted to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, also requires funeral homes to answer questions about prices over the phone.
“Had it been written in the internet era, online pricing would have been mandated,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes price transparency.
The rule is “showing its age” and needs updating to protect “uniquely vulnerable” consumers, an FTC commissioner, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, said in a statement about the review.
An itemized list can help consumers choose services, Slocum said. For example, families often don’t know that they don’t have to hold a formal viewing or can choose a less-expensive coffin bought elsewhere.
Visiting funeral homes for price lists was burdensome even before the coronavirus outbreak, but it has put the need for change in sharp relief, Slocum said.
A coalition of nearly two dozen attorneys general, including Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s, also voiced support for online pricing and updates to the funeral rule.
The median cost of a full funeral with burial was $7,640 in 2019, according to the National Funeral Directors Association; cremation, which is increasingly popular, can be thousands less. Prices vary widely, however.
The industry opposes mandatory online pricing and said the decisions should be left to individual businesses. California is the lone state that requires online price disclosure, but loopholes allow some funeral homes to avoid doing so, according to the alliance. Scott Gilligan, general counsel for the funeral home association, said most consumers based their selection of a funeral home on its location and reputation and their familiarity with its director rather than primarily on price.
The FTC is also seeking comments on alternatives to online pricing, such as requiring funeral homes to offer an e-mail address online to request prices electronically.
Advocates also want changes to the FTC’s offenders program, intended to retrain funeral homes that don’t disclose prices, because it doesn’t appear to significantly reduce violations, Slocum said.
Ann Carrns writes for the New York Times.