Pittsburgh Catholic Funerals
Pennsylvania law states:
Funeral Director Law, PS 63: 479.2 . . . The term “funeral director” shall also mean a person who makes arrangements for funeral service and who sells funeral merchandise to the public incidental to such service or who makes financial arrangements for the rendering of such services and the sale of such merchandise.
It would appear that ONLY funeral directors may sell financing that is specific to your funeral plans.
The Pittsburgh diocese, however, announced a few months ago that it was setting up “The Catholic Funeral Plan” to promote with their own sales people. According to the functionaries I talked with there, the aim of the plan is to:
- Spread the mission of mercy
- Minister to the grieving
- Protect the teachings of the church and liturgy.
At first blush, the insurance might sound like a good deal—transferrable, excess funds refundable to estate or family (not likely to happen given funeral inflation), and built-in “inflation-protection” for families. However, funeral inflation far exceeds general inflation, which is measured by the consumer price index (CPI). At the current low CPI rates, the so-called “inflation protection” isn’t likely to kick in, EVEN IF FUNERAL INFLATION is rampant! (Is this inflation protection promise misleading?) Oh, yes, the 4% guaranteed rate of growth is probably no favor to consumers. You can get 5% or more with a CD in your local bank.
The poor in the Pittsburgh district who buy these policies may be at special risk. With the estate or family—not the funeral director—named as the beneficiary of the insurance policy, such a policy will likely be considered an asset for Medicaid purposes and may have to be cashed in before Medicaid will pick up any medical expenses. Cash value of any insurance policy is pennies on the dollar. (Two sons in New Jersey had already paid $7,000 on a $10,000 insurance policy to cover their mother’s funeral. When she had a stroke and moved to a nursing home, they had to cash it in. What did they get back? $3,476!!)
Let’s assume you’ve got plenty of money to spend for a funeral. How much funeral insurance will each Pittsburgh Catholic family need? The Catholic Funeral Plan (CFP) has invited local funeral directors to send over their General Price Lists (GPL) along with info on any package pricing the funeral home offers. Now why would CFP need price lists if it were selling just insurance, not funerals? It is this maneuver that sounds suspiciously as if CFP is making “financial arrangements for the rendering of such services,” an activity restricted in Pennsylvania to funeral directors. Unless the CFP agents are duly licensed by the state as undertakers, it would seem that showing a specific funeral home price list prior to selling funeral insurance could land someone in jail for up to a year plus a $1,000 fine. And does that make the funeral director an accomplice—if using an unlicensed agent for marketing to his/her funeral clients?
But there are other consumer considerations. There will be enormous pressure on the family to choose a body-present-at-the-church type of funeral even though the Catholic church now accepts and offers memorial masses as well as funeral masses. The CFP spokesman, Matthew Cahalan, was quite definite that a funeral mass is “preferred.” For a struggling family, it sounds as if it may be an uphill battle to get the CFP agent to cooperate with a lesser-cost funeral plan such as immediate cremation or burial. The fact that the agent gets a much larger commission when selling an expensive funeral insurance plan is an irresistable incentive to promote expensive funerals, and not meeting sales quotes could risk the loss of medical benefits.
After showing a family the GPL from any or all of the cooperating funeral homes, the CFP agent accepts full or partial payment for the insurance policy, then sends the family to the funeral home to write up the actual preneed agreement. (From a strictly practical point of view, how does one purchase a casket sight-unseen or know how much it will cost?)
Many Pittsburgh area funeral directors are up in arms. With an aggressive sales team that doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer, the Catholic diocese will be foisting a funeral financing plan on its congregations, a plan that has some unfair-to-funeral-directors factors built in. What are the tenets that the local morticians must accept in order to get a referral from CFP?
- As soon as a death occurs, the funeral director must put any Catholic family in touch with the church. [Not a big deal probably.]
- The funeral director must agree to accept the proceeds of the policy as payment in full. [With funeral inflation running 5-7% a year and interest on the policy guaranteed at only 4%, who’s stuck with the loss?]
- The funeral director may not charge extra for driving the body to the church. [Why should the funeral director do this for free for the Catholics when all other customers may legitimately be charged for this service?]
That funeral directors are upset and saying so is evidenced by this letter from the lawyer for CFP:
Patrick T. Lanigan
Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home
700 Linden Avenue
East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15112
Re. The Catholic Funeral Plan
Dear Mr. Lanigan:
Remarks about the illegality of The Catholic Funeral Plan (the “Plan”) and adverse consequences to funeral directors who choose to participate in the Plan have been attributed to you. You are hereby advised that we are legal representatives to the Plan in the area of compliance with the Pennsylvania Funeral Director Law, Federal Trade Commission Rule Regulating Funeral Industry Practices and other applicable federal and state laws, rules and regulations. [“Applicable”? I thought these laws and regulations applied to funeral directors, not insurance folks.] On the facts as we understand them, we believe, first, that you [sic] remarks are incorrect and, second, that your conduct is actionable on the grounds of tortious interference with contractual relations, trade slander/libel, restraint of trade and promotion of secondary boycotting.
You are well aware of your remarks to funeral directors and others involved directly or indirectly with the Plan that give rise to these causes of action. If you do not cease and desist from making these remarks, we will institute suit against you and your business. Being so advised, we trust you will act accordingly.
James, Smith, Durking & Connelly LLP
Gary L. James
Speaking of tortuous interference, perhaps some excerpts from the Pittsburgh Catholic cemetery telephone script will be of interest to consumers. (Shared with the FCA office by a person troubled by the hard-sell tactics expected—and quotas required if a sales rep is to keep his/her medical insurance benefits.)
A free booklet titled “Emergency Record File” is the prop for getting cemetery sales people in the front door. The booklet consists of a few blank forms on which to list personal information, family members, medical information, asset information, and funeral/cemetery information that would, no doubt, be of help at a time of death—simple to fill out, certainly not “confusing.”
When prospecting from the parish list, the only objection that needs to be handled on the initial approach is: “I’M NOT INTERESTED.”
THEM: I’m/We’re not interested.
YOU: I can certainly understand how you feel. You’re probably not interested in buying cemetery property are you? [Empathy approach, agree with them.]
THEM: That’s right, etc.
YOU: Well, Mary, you would have shocked me if you said that you were, but I’ll still give you the book because I’m sure you would agree that sooner or later everyone has to do this whether they are interested or not. The Church feels that if we can give you a book which would help you and your family, then when you are ready, you will be better prepared (slight pause). What’s usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer options)
NOTE: The key to any approach is to end your side of the conversation with a question. This keeps you in control of the conversation and gives you the opportunity to keep probing for a convenient time to come back with the book.. . .
THEM: Can’t you just give me (or mail me) the book and information?
YOU: Mary, what we have found in the past is that when we have just left the book without explaining it, it created more questions than it answered for Catholic families. Mary, other families that have received this book have found it extremely valuable and helpful. The Church just wants families to have as much information as possible so as to be prepared ahead of time. That just makes good sense doesn’t it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband afternoon or evenings? (continue to offer options.)
Note: All other specific objections need not be handled on the initial approach. The proper method to handle these objections is to avoid dealing with them unless they would result with you not being able to visit with the family. Regardless of what form this objection may take, here is how to handle that objection:
YOU: THAT’S PERFECTLY OK, (Magic words!) Mary you are still entitled to the book. The Church feels that it is important that every Catholic family should have this information prior to the time it is needed. We feel it is better to have the information and not need it than to need it and not have it. That just makes good sense doesn’t it? Mary, what is usually better for you and your husband, afternoons or evenings? (continue to offer times.)
Play mental ping-pong.
An objection is only a request for more information.
What happened to the Catholic mission of mercy and Church teachings about charity?