July 6, 2020

funeral homes, a business in a few hands that speculates with the COVID-19


Oriol Barri, a young Catalan musician whose grandfather died last week, has been told not to stop. That your fight does not end the coronavirus. “It’s like Greta, the one on climate change,” he laughs. “When people have a reference, it is easier to continue.”

Oriol’s story is that of a family to which the largest funeral group in Spain, Mémora, tried to place a “special coffin” and a non-existent wake for 1,500 and 420 euros, respectively. “With the excuse of the coronavirus they told us that we should buy it,” he says. “At that moment you do whatever it takes. But when we saw the price we called, we said no. Then they told us that nothing was happening. That we could buy a normal coffin. It is the most serious thing.”

The first VAT invoice was 4,000 euros; the second, with a normal coffin, of 3,000. Oriol shared his case on Twitter and has been explaining it in the media for several days. Others affected by Mémora – from before the coronavirus – ask that now that he is in the media, continue. The company, for its part, accuses him of lying, of having “commercial interests” and stresses that “he reserves the right to take legal action” against him.

“They are angry. Mémora was bought by a Canadian pension fund for 450 million three years ago,” says Aurelio Sánchez, president of the Esfune association. “They have such a large structure that if prices drop a little, everything is dismantled. For them, it can be ruin.”

Sánchez knows well what he is talking about. As a worker at a small funeral home, he has spent years denouncing the abusive practices of the sector, which harm both clients and local companies, without large groups behind. 30% of the funeral business in Spain is concentrated in a few hands, which in turn concentrate the majority of death insurance, the so-called ‘insurance for the dead’. “It is no coincidence that the first known case in this crisis happened in Barcelona,” adds Alván Gómez, a Canarian lawyer specialized in funeral services. “Barcelona is the nerve center of this matter and Mémora has been denounced many times, although economic sanctions do not matter. But funeral abuses have occurred throughout Spain for a long time.”

When a person dies, his family does not have time to stop to examine what he hires, nor to compare prices, nor does he want to report if he detects irregularities when everything is left behind. “We call it the ‘funerary syndrome’,” says Sánchez. “After a specific psychological disorder, in which you have been deceived, you say … what the family will think if I report it. You leave it, you forget. That is why we created the association.”

The giants of the business of death

Mémora, Funespaña, Albia, Grupo ASV, Servisa and Parcesa are the main funeral homes in Spain. Between all they enter more than 400 million annually, of the total of 1,500 invoiced by the sector. Mémora is the largest and belongs to Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan and Taurus Bidco, managed by the venture capital fund KKR. The rest are funeral homes for insurers: Funespaña is from Mapfre, Albia de Santalucía, Servisa de Ocaso and the ASV Group includes Seguros Meridiano. Parcesa is the exception to the rule: it belongs to the Promociones Keops real estate group.

Although there are different theories about its origin, one verified truth is that ‘insurance for the dead’ is something very Spanish. “After the Civil War, Spain was devastated and people had no money to bury,” says Sánchez. “This figure was created and today there are 22 million policies.” Almost half of the Spanish population pays death insurance, which ranges from 30 to 100 euros per year, and covers the funeral expenses at death. This insurance does not exist in other countries and European law calls this into question.

The funeral home of Madrid resumes the collection of deceased with coronavirus

The funeral home of Madrid resumes the collection of deceased with coronavirus

EFE

Santalucía and Ocaso control half the market, with Mapfre in third place. In 2015, this type of policies generated a volume of more than 2,100 million of euros. Both Isabel Castelo and Isabel Elena de Mandalúniz, owners of Ocaso, as Carlos Álvarez Navarro and her cousin Modesto Álvarez Calvo, owners of Santalucía, are among the richest people in Spain (positions 48, 54 and 55), according to the ranking prepared annually by El Mundo. Also the owner of the Parcesa funeral home, Leonardo Sánchez, is in position 352.

“Insurance companies are historically older,” says lawyer Gómez. “When they saw that the money from the insurance was given to the village funeral home, they realized that the best thing was to create their own funeral homes [o comprar otras más pequeñas] and that the business stayed at home. If a family member dies and is insured with Ocaso, who provides services? Well, his funeral home. “Recently, Funespaña (Mapfre) and Albia (Santalucía) merged to create the largest funeral home in the country, an operation that is being investigated by the CNMC for the risk of concentration it involves.

The binomial between insurers and funeral homes results in competition and in the consumer’s freedom of choice, that when you call the insurance of your deceased relative you will see how they try to ‘place’ your funeral home, without giving you the opportunity to compare prices. But it is not the only questionable tandem. Funeral homes often have commercials in hospitals to offer their services. And sometimes they impose them. Another media case in Barcelona was that of Manuel Monterde, whom Hospital forced to use the funeral services of the Sancho de Ávila funeral parlor, managed by Mémora. The Generalitat agreed with Monterde and urged the Barcelona City Council to sanction the funeral parlor by monopoly.

Imposition in times of coronavirus

Something similar happened to Pepe Jordana. Her mother died of coronavirus last Sunday at the Cantoblanco hospital in Madrid. I had no insurance. “In the hospital they told me that they had called the funeral home and that I didn’t have to do anything, that they took care of everything. They called me from Parcesa and told me that there was no funeral, no wake, or anything. everyone prefers incineration. They send me a budget and I think: 5,000 euros. “

Pepe did not know that this funeral home is managed by a private company, which, when he got his case, gave him a quote for the complete funeral service. Customers can choose different suppliers, they do not have to contract the pack from the same company. But most of the time they don’t know it. Also, they find it more comfortable that way.

Parcesa spent a budget for cremation. It included a basic coffin (1,095 euros) and a ‘special coffin interior’ (325 euros). In addition, it added 446 euros of funeral vehicle, 450 euros of conditioning and 450 of camera.

Of these concepts, at least three are questionable according to the experts consulted. The Ministry of Health sent a circular with the procedure for the handling of corpses of Covid-19 cases that clearly specifies that the coffin can be normal. Inside this, the corpse must go in a waterproof sanitary bag, which is a white zippered sanitary bag. Industry sources put the cost of the stock at less than 100 euros. It is not necessary to use a ‘special’ or zinc interior, a concept that appears in another budget to which this newspaper has had access, this time from the Municipal Funeral Home of Madrid (for 305 euros).

Parcesa Budget

Parcesa Budget

The 450 euros of conditioning and the 450 of camera should not be included either, recalls the lawyer Gómez. The conditioning includes the corpse conservation practices, common when there is a wake and this is exposed to the relatives. But the Government has recommended suspending the wake and has prohibited “carrying out cleansing or tanatopraxia or thanathetic interventions” on the body. The charge for the camera – for keeping the body refrigerated before cremation – is also “exaggerated,” says Gomez. Under normal conditions, if there were a wake, it would make sense because it includes renting the room. But if you are waiting for incineration because the funeral home is saturated, you should not be passed on to the customer.

This newspaper has contacted Parcesa to ask about these concepts, without receiving a response yet. When requesting a quote as a normal client, the funeral home indicates that the closed price of the service is 4,318 euros and that they no longer make cremations. Thus, it rises to 6,833 euros including the niche.

“When I saw the budget, I realized that it was absurd,” continues Pepe Jordana. “Nobody has thought that there should be exceptional measures to unify the price and that it comes out cheaper. We are all thinking about whether we will charge next month. It cannot be that dying now is more expensive than a month ago.” Other sources in the sector consulted acknowledge that many funeral homes have raised their prices between 200 and 300 euros to include the “special” measures required by the protocol and that some have duplicated it.

Panasef, the employers’ association, has issued a statement saying that “funeral companies are unnecessarily targeted, accusing them of increasing their prices, when this is absolutely uncertain.”

Government intervention

In Panasef they are angry. In the first place, because the Community of Madrid established that the Military Emergency Unit should be the one to remove the bodies of the deceased in hospitals. “They have not counted on us,” its president, Alfredo Gosálvez, tells eldiario.es. “Imagine someone picking up and doing your job. They should have warned us. Coordination is not too smooth.” When asked if this takes away business – by not picking up the corpse, they lose the possibility of selling their services from the hospital – Gosálvez indicates that “the important thing here is not business, but attending to families.”

Funeral home employee:

Funeral home employee: “I have sadness attached to the suit”

EFE

In order not to worry about the business but the attention of the families, their reaction to the intervention of the Generalitat de Catalunya is curious. The Govern approved this Saturday a decree defining the conditions for the provision of funeral services during the coronavirus crisis. The decree includes the determination of a maximum price, although this remains in the hands of the municipalities. In Barcelona, ​​the City Council proposed a maximum of 2,450 euros. In its statement, Panasef shows “its total disagreement” with it.

“Our efforts should focus on serving society and not on having to spend time resorting to unsupported, interventionist and rarely seen measures in the democratic period, whose ultimate goal, as unnecessary, we fail to understand,” he says.

From the Municipal Funeral Home of Madrid –semi-privatized for one hundred pesetas in 1993 to be given to Funespaña and remunicipalized in 2016 – The CCOO union insists on the need for total government intervention. “Private companies are not providing the entire service,” said Rufino Ramos, union representative. “Part of the work is done by the State for a reason of urgency. The situation is critical: we are going to join forces. I think that an operation should be mounted, as was done in the 11M or in the Spanair accident, and that decisions are arbitrate from the public “. The Government has already empowered the Armed Forces to conduct and transport bodies, but it is not clear whether funeral homes will stop passing this cost on to their clients if the work is done by others.

Both Oriol Barri and Pepe Jordana ask that the service be free for those who have died of coronavirus. “It should be free and that’s it,” says Barri. “It is what seems intolerable to me,” concludes Jordana. “All companies now have a hole in their accounts and it cannot be that the funeral homes bear their extra costs on the citizens, when in this case they are going to cover themselves.”

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