California funeral homes use loophole to hide prices

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE           

Contact: Josh Slocum, FCA, Inc., 802-865-8300

 

OVER ONE QUARTER OF CALIFORNIA FUNERAL HOMES IN URBAN AREAS USE LOOPHOLE IN STATE LAW TO HIDE PRICES

Consumer Groups Call on California Legislators to Close the Loophole to Help Bereaved Families Better Control Funeral Costs

Washington, D.C. – Today two national groups–the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA)–and two California-based groups–Consumer Action (CA) and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of California–released a report showing that 26 percent of the 205 funeral homes in six large urban areas in California use a loophole in state law to hide their funeral prices. The report, Hidden Funeral Prices: An Evaluation of California Funeral Homes Price Disclosure and Lack of Disclosure, prepared by FCA and CFA, also identified the 46 percent of funeral homes surveyed who prominently display their complete price and service lists.

“We urge California legislators to close the legal loophole so that all funeral homes are required to post prices online,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s Executive Director. “This price disclosure greatly helps consumers plan for funerals that they can afford,” he added. According to 2017 National Funeral Directors Association data, the average cost of a full-service conventional funeral is $7,360.

Funeral homes in some areas surveyed were more likely than those in other areas to disclose prices prominently. For example, FCA and CFA judged that 73 percent of the websites in the City of Los Angeles have prominent disclosures, but only 27 percent in Alameda County have prominent disclosures. “We commend the many California funeral homes that prominently disclose their price lists,” said Joe Ridout of Consumer Action. “These homes honor the spirit as well as the letter of the law,” he added.

Most of the 33 funeral homes surveys that are affiliated with the nation’s largest funeral home company – Service Corporation International (SCI) operating under the brand name Dignity Memorial – refused to disclose prices online then largely ignored consumer requests for these prices. California law allows compliance by listing types of service and merchandise with a note that says, “A General Price List is available on request.” When, as a consumer, we requested the price list by email, we received only two responses. One Dignity Memorial employee provided the price lists for four Orange County funeral homes while one other employee provided the price list of one Los Angeles home. Three-fifths of the funeral homes using the loophole were affiliated with Dignity Memorial.

“In all of our research nationally, we have yet to find one Dignity Memorial funeral home that posts prices online,” said Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow. “It appears to us that their company is leading industry resistance to price-posting,” he added. Research by FCA and CFA nationally has suggested that Dignity Memorial funeral homes tend to charge higher prices for the same services than do other funeral homes.

The report also identified seven funeral homes that appear to violate the law by neither posting prices nor utilizing the law’s loophole.

The report urges consumers seeking funeral services to pay careful attention to whether a home prominently discloses prices. “Those funeral homes that disclose prices prominently are the ones that are likely to care the most about helping customers control their funeral costs,” said Jean Okuye, President of FCA of California. 

Since 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has required all funeral homes in the nation to give consumers a printed, itemized list of prices and services, called a General Price List (GPL), before the funeral arrangements are discussed. In 2013, California updated this requirement for state funeral homes by requiring them to post prices online. However, faced with intense industry lobbying, the legislature created a loophole that allowed funeral homes to comply with the law by listing 16 types of services and merchandise then adding the note about a price list being available on request. The law did not define what this availability meant, nor did it require homes using the loophole to make available their price list in response to phone or email requests.  

In their research, FCA and CFA distinguished funeral homes that prominently disclose price lists and those that only visibly disclose these prices. We considered a disclosure to be prominent when the site posted the price list on the visible screen of the home page or as a dropdown on a related link. Two researchers agreed on these criteria, independently judged whether each website prominently or visibly disclosed prices, and resolved any differences in judgment. While this research was undertaken over the summer, those websites with no or hidden disclosures were checked in the past week.

The 205 websites include all those of funeral homes listed by the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, the state regulator for the funeral and cemetery industries. They include the active websites for all listed funeral homes in the City of Sacramento, Alameda County (East Bay area including Oakland), City of San Francisco, City of Los Angeles, Orange County, and City of San Diego. The Bureau lists 1,086 funeral establishments in the state.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in San Francisco, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper.

Funeral Consumers Alliance is a national federation of nonprofit consumer education groups. FCA works to protect the rights of grieving Americans to choose funerals they find meaningful and affordable. 

Funeral Consumers Alliance of California represents the interests of member educational organizations and consumers throughout the state.  

 

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