Four Legislative Priorities Funeral Directors Should Know About

Foundation Partner Group's Vice President of Government and Industry Relations, Mark Krause, has worked in the funeral industry for 45 years. He is a third-generation funeral director who sold his family's funeral business, established by his grandfather during the Depression, to Foundation Partners in 2022. He continues to advocate for funeral providers nationwide in his current role and also serves as the Chairman of the Foundation of Funeral Service, which provides funding for communities in times of devastating loss such as the Maui fires and the Uvalde shootings. He shares his experience at the recent National Funeral Directors Association 2024 Advocacy Summit below.

Q: These Advocacy Summits bring people from our industry together from around the country. What do you think the biggest issues are for funeral professionals?

Right now, there are four main national initiatives underway. The Federal Trade Commission is proposing changes to the Funeral Rule with calling for online posting of prices, there is a proposal to allow the use of pre-tax Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for funding funerals – which is an interesting one, there is a “body broker” bill which I think might have some success, and then we have the possible Environmental Protection Agency ban of formaldehyde. All of these are very crucial to our profession.

I think another hot topic is the national board exam. Licensed funeral directors want to transfer between states, but the current system is awkward and difficult. Is it time to replace or abolish the national board exam? Is it a byproduct of a bygone era?

Q: How would the proposed HSA legislation help families?

I always refer to funeral providers as the ‘last link in the health care chain.’ People don’t always think of us in health care, but we kind of are. This bill would allow for funds (pre-tax money set aside in Health Savings Accounts) to pay for the funeral. This need really became evident during COVID.

The nice part about using that HSA money to pay those expenses is that there’s no revenue consequence for the government, really. It’s already set aside and taken out of budgeting considerations. It’s tax-free dollars. It seemed to have a lot of support on both sides of the aisle. It hasn’t gotten legs yet, but when we talked to legislators at the summit they thought it made sense. As professionals in the funeral industry, it is now our collective responsibility to engage with our legislators and lobbyists to advance this issue.

Q: The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to impose stricter regulations on formaldehyde. Why is that important?

The government (EPA and OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have concerns for the environment and health. But, the thing is, funeral homes already have a mitigating procedure in place to remove the concern over formaldehyde toxicity within our profession. We are already regulated in our preparation rooms. And it is important to those of us in the funeral industry to be able to continue to use formaldehyde because there is no comparable product on the market that matches its effectiveness in preservation and its positive cosmetic benefits.

Funeral service really is such a small percentile of the whole formaldehyde sector which is often big industry, like carpeting, hair care products, and beauty salons. Studies conducted by the NFDA indicate that we are operating well within current guidelines, significantly below the established limits. The EPA is attempting to set guidelines below the current ambient air levels, which are even lower than the air we breathe outdoors. This approach could indirectly make formaldehyde use illegal, a move they might have thought would go unnoticed. However, there are astute individuals who have recognized this strategy. Such a ban on formaldehyde would disproportionately impact our profession compared to other industries.

We all understand the positive emotional impact that comes from being able to say goodbye and remember a loved one with their body present. Stay tuned on that one.

Q: The FTC is poised to change their Funeral Rule and may require funeral homes to post prices online. Why are some funeral directors opposed to this?

First of all, I believe in posting prices. The Krause funeral homes are the high-price leader in the community and we have never hesitated to put those prices on the website. But why don’t others want them? There are several groups of funeral home professionals that have their own reasons. One reason is that they don’t want to be forced to post their prices. This is a business decision that they choose, and I get that. I personally have found that if families are online looking for prices and you don’t have yours listed, they will go on to the next business that does.

Funeral professionals who oppose posting online prices also believe that there is a lot of inconsistency both in how families are charged for funeral services and how the prices might be listed on a General Price List. Those professionals worry that consumers might be deceived by low prices which don’t mention add-on fees and there are concerns that sharing prices online that may appear so differently might create an uneven and confusing playing field. Some worry that posting prices drives consumers to the lowest cost provider, but actually many studies show that this isn’t true.

The FTC is trying to be forward-thinking as technology evolves, including the best ways to make the General Price List available to consumers. I am an advocate for making GPLs available in any way the consumer wants it. Being consumer-friendly brings business to you. If you are not going to be consumer-friendly, you are giving families a reason not to pick you.

Q: Tell me about the “body broker” issue and proposed legislation.

Currently, you can donate your body to science and there are lots of very credible, ethical places, like medical colleges, where this happens. But there’s a gray area with little to no regulation in the body donation space where families have been convinced that their loved one will be used in medical or scientific research, but other uses take place.These types of businesses are totally unregulated. They can do this in their garage. They can send parts all over the country. Bodies are used in other ways and those uses are not communicated to the families.

The proposed bill would regulate this practice so that families are aware of where the donations are being sent, what they are being used for, and when done, the family would have the option of retrieving them back so they can have a proper disposition.

Q: What should funeral directors do to be more involved in the legislative process that impacts them?

It takes everyone. It’s relationship building. Get involved, stay involved, be visible, go and talk with elected officials. It’s amazing how receptive legislators are. Most legislators are really good people and they want to do the best thing for both consumers and businesses. And elected leaders are pulled in so many directions and they can’t know about all the issues that affect us. There are so many issues that they have to deal with, it’s impossible for them to know them all. If you are visible and present, you are there to help educate them. Then when that issue does come up, they might say, “Oh yeah, this is what Mark said. And he’s always been good on his word and he understands what’s going on. I’m going to call him and see what he thinks about this.” And that’s happened to me. Working to build these relationships and educate lawmakers, it’s all good stuff.

Beyond these four issues, Mark is keeping his eye on other federal legislation that may impact the funeral business including the recent ruling on non-compete agreements and small business-friendly legislation that the NFDA supports. He encourages his colleagues to be involved in their legislative process, especially at the state level.

You can learn more about the NFDA’s Advocacy Summit on the organization’s website.

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