How to (& Why) Watch the FTC Funeral Rule Workshop Tomorrow
If you’re curious about the status of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) review of proposed changes to the Funeral Rule, the agency is offering an excellent opportunity to find out where it stands. Shopping for Funeral Services: An FTC Workshop will be available via live webcast on the FTC website on Thursday, September 7, 2023, beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET. The workshop should provide the FTC with valuable information from deathcare professionals which they can use as they continue to consider updating the Rule.
How we got here
The FTC established the Funeral Rule in 1984 to provide consumers “the right to get a General Price List from a funeral provider when they ask about funeral arrangements” and to “choose the funeral goods and services they want (with some exceptions).” As of now, the Rule requires that a printed, itemized General Price List (GPL) be presented to the family of the deceased during face-to-face meetings prior to discussing arrangements, products, or services.
To enforce the Rule, the FTC conducted undercover inspections and surprise shops in various regions. Connecting Directors has shared the results of several of these investigations through the years, as well as the profession’s progress in adapting to the Rule’s requirements. To their credit, the FTC has listened to deathcare professionals’ concerns about the Rule. In response, they’ve issued “tip sheets” to help with compliance and have even made slight modifications to the Rule itself to clarify questionable areas.
Around 2017, rumors began to circulate that the FTC was considering updating the Funeral Rule to require GPLs to be posted online. In February 2020, these rumors took concrete form, as the FTC sought public comment on several aspects of the Rule, including (but not limited to) “whether providers should be required to post their itemized price lists online.” In response, the commission received nearly 800 comments, including formal responses by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the International Cemetery, Cremation, & Funeral (ICCFA), and the Cremation Association of North America (CANA).
Although the FTC voted to retain the Rule for the time being rather than taking immediate action in response to the comments, the agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning potential amendments. The comment period for comments on this notice ended in January 2023; again, deathcare organizations responded along with industry professionals and the public.
The public workshop
In May 2023, the FTC announced that it will hold a “public workshop on September 7, 2023 seeking input on proposed changes to the Funeral Rule.” According to the Shopping for Funeral Services workshop agenda, the deathcare profession will be well represented, and although potential online pricing requirements have dominated the headlines lately, the workshop will tackle a wide range of topics — all of which could have profound effects on the Rule and deathcare at large.
“I think we’re living history right now. This is historic,” says CANA Executive Director Barbara Kemmis, who will be participating in two workshop panels. “This is a wide, sweeping change that’s going to happen to the Funeral Rule. The FTC has positioned it as ‘modernizing’ the Funeral Rule. So whether you can watch it live or recording, consider doing so.”
The Shopping for Funeral Services workshop agenda includes five panel discussions moderated by FTC representatives:
- Online Disclosures: Is it Needed? The Pros/Cons
- Online Disclosures: Practical Considerations
- Basic Service Fee
- General Price List Updates: Fee Disclosures and Mandatory Embalming Disclosures
- Alkaline Hydrolysis, Natural Organic Reduction, and Other New Trends in the Funeral Industry
To Kemmis, the workshop represents an effort by the FTC to better understand the current state of deathcare and anticipate upcoming issues that might impact their decisions regarding updates to the Funeral Rule.
“I choose to be optimistic,” Kemmis explains. “I choose to see this workshop as a positive step that the FTC commissioners and staff really want to learn more about how funeral goods and services are bought and sold. They want to learn from all aspects. They did not have to do this workshop. They could have just at any point they could have said, ‘We’re revising the rule. Here it is. You now have to comply with it, right?’ So I choose to believe that the workshop is a good sign that they’re listening and curious about the profession they’re regulating.”
What to expect from the workshop
In addition to Kemmis’ representation of CANA on workshop panels, participating organizations include representatives from NFDA, ICCFA, the National Funeral Home Alliance, the Funeral Consumers Alliance, and the Consumer Federation of America. Each of these organizations have presumably reached out to constituents to ensure their comments on the panel are representative of their membership.
“I think all the associations have reached out to our memberships to kind of test our positions and statements and create our positions from member feedback,” Kemmis says. “So I think that they will see a lot of lawyers, general counsels of associations and then me who are participating in the workshops. They’ll hear these positions articulated and hopefully find comfort in that. I think they’ll learn kind of the bigger picture from the questions and the flow of the questions and the emphasis that the FTC staff placed on certain topics like what’s going to happen.”
With two panels focusing on online disclosures, participants and viewers can expect some answers to the questions that have plagued deathcare professionals since 2017 — or at least some clarification of the FTC’s stance and the profession’s real-life, valid concerns.
“I was at a meeting at the FTC in 2018 where a staffer said to me, ‘How hard is it to post a PDF on a website? And, you know, it’s hard not to answer that question with the answer. Well, it’s not hard at all. But they’re missing the point. Does that address the concern of consumers? I can post my general price list and they’re not going to understand that this decision means they need these five things. And this decision means they don’t need these three things over here. Purchasing funeral goods and services is very different than ordering off a menu. Funeral goods and services are different and it is a little bit more complex. So that’s why I choose to be optimistic about the workshop and the comment periods.”