Friday, March 20, 2009

Why is a General Price List (GPL) So Confusing?

The GPL is the keystone of the FTC's "Funeral Rule" ("the rule"). A funeral home must provide a written GPL, for the individual to keep, to anyone who asks, in person, about funeral goods, services or the prices of such goods or services. This includes consumers, journalists, competitors, religious societies, government agencies and consumer groups, among others. If not requested, it must be offered when discussions begin about the type of funeral or disposition that the funeral home arranges, specific goods or services offered and/or the prices of such. The rule provides guidelines and, at times, specific language, on a number of things, such as compliance, types of information required on the GPL, alternative price lists, casket and outer burial container price lists, cost information and disclosures, telephone disclosures, specific prohibited misrepresentations, embalming, record keeping, consumer protections and state exemptions.

The fact that this rule exists at all, with an entire section dedicated to specifying prohibited misrepresentations and providing the actual language that needs to be used, the placement of the text and the type set may lead a reasonable person to assume that without those specific prohibitions, misrepresentation by funeral homes would be rampant. Let's talk about that further...

The rule does not dictate the GPL's format or placement in the pile of papers one is given when arranging an at-need funeral. So, here's a scenario...

A mother of three school-aged children learns that her beloved husband has died suddenly and unexpectedly, with no life insurance. The hospital needs to know which funeral home to send the body to. Without having ever considered that question, she of course names a local funeral home, which she may or may not have prior experience with. She contacts the funeral home and set a meeting to discuss the arrangements. In a complete emotional hurricane, she is provided a GPL, and walked through the myriad of questions, arrangements and decisions that must be made immediately. In a normal state of mind, she would thoroughly read through any contract to understand exactly what she is buying. But, her life has turned upside down and she is looking for a trusted expert to guide her through this devastating time. The funeral director provides her with a written GPL, which is 40 pages in length and includes tables, graphs, poems, pictures, optional and nondeclinable goods and services listed together and line item prices for everything, including "helpful" sections with prices for a couple of different things grouped and various "package" deals. She is clearly emotionally overwhelmed, so the trusted funeral director tells her she has that for reference, but that he can just guide her through what decisions need to be made. Burial or cremation? Burial.

Casket time. Statistics show that consumers generally purchase 1 of the first 3 caskets they view, and select the mid-priced range. Funeral directors know this, so they target the higher mid-priced range of caskets they offer, regardless of whether this is within her budget or not. She first views a $3,000 casket (wholesale $750), then a low-end casket for $2,000 (wholesale $500), and last a "mid-range" for $2,300 ($600 wholesale). She selects the "mid-range".

Interim tally sheet: By walking in the door without a pre-need funeral plan and making emotionally driven decisions without understanding that the funeral director likely has numerous lower cost casket options that he consciously chose NOT to offer, her bill looks like this:
Basic Service Fee (nondeclinable): $1,480
Casket: $2,400
Embalming: $850
Transfer Vehicle to Funeral Home: $275 (from hospital to funeral home)

So, from the get go her bill is already $5,005, without a cemetery plot, outer burial container, visitation (not included in basic service fee), limousine for family, hearse (not included in basic service fee), utility or flower vehicle and other expenses.

No need to belabor this story any longer, I think the point is clear. The Funeral Rule is absolutely designed to identify and enforce consumer protections, but as we all know, there are always methods of "technically" complying outside of the intentions of the law. Many times funeral homes make GPL's intentionally confusing and complex, long and arduous to read and understand, and misleading with "package" deals and other optional items because the opportunity to up-sell or emotionally manipulate is by definition their profit margin. If you take the emotional element of funerals out of the equation, funeral homes are for profit sellers of funeral goods and services who profit when people die. And, there is nothing wrong with that. That is capitalism and this is America...a free market.

My issue is when one party, the funeral home, is in a distinct and meaningful advantage over the consumer who seeks their services. The consumer is an emotional wreck, decisions and arrangements must be made quickly, and comparison shopping is the last thing they have the emotional energy or time to do. The consumer many times become the victim.

That is exactly why Funeral Planners Inc. and the services we provide are absolutely essential. Everybody dies...that is a fact. Now, once again, take the emotion out of it and think with a clear, thoughtful and financially responsible mind about the decisions and arrangements, well over 100, that you can and should make in advance, with the important benefit of time and resources for comparing costs of goods and services. Or, you could choose to not think about it and leave that emotional burden to be carried out by your family and loved ones, with your final gesture of love being the $7,000 funeral bill!

Pre-planning is smart and necessary. Get informed so that you can be prepared.

No comments:

Post a Comment