Funeral Chain Merger Draws Consumer Protest

     DALLAS (CN) – A funeral home chain’s plan to buy its competitor for $1.4 billion will lead to diminished competition and higher prices, a consumer group told the Federal Trade Commission.
     In its Thursday letter to the FTC, the Funeral Consumers Alliance warned that Houston-based Service Corporation International’s acquisition of Stewart Enterprises would give it control over 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries nationwide, making it the largest of such operators.
     “SCI has devoured the other funeral home chains over the past several years and now is the king of the hill in most major metropolitan markets,” the alliance’s executive director, Josh Slocum, said in a statement. “And the results have not been good for consumers. These mergers have led to higher prices and deteriorating service.”
     The alliance claims that SCI has a “long track record of abusing customers at the worst times.”
     “For at least 15 years grieving families around the country have complained to us about the practices at SCI funeral homes and cemeteries,” Slocum said in the statement. “From lying about options in order to boost the funeral bill, to digging up graves to re-sell them to another unsuspecting family, to denying the legal rights of LGBT people to make funeral arrangements for their partners. You name it, we’ve heard it.”
     The alliance noted that SCI had to spend $100 million settling a grave-desecration class action over its Menorah Gardens Cemetery in Florida. It said a similar class action is ongoing regarding SCI’s Eden Memorial Park in California.
     Funeral purchases are different in that families are “incredibly vulnerable,” and the FTC in fact adopted its funeral rule in response to the “overwhelming” record of deception and consumer abuse in the industry, the alliance said.
     “This is not a run of the mill merger; this isn’t about whether a $20 retail product will cost consumers $5 more,” Slocum said. “We’re talking real money here. Funeral consumers often make great economic sacrifices to bury their loved ones. The average full-service funeral runs in excess of $7,000 and often for much more at SCI’s Dignity locations. Especially when it has faced less competition, SCI has increased prices and we can expect more of the same if this merger occurs.”

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