- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2012

Starting Sunday, it will cost more to die in Maryland.

As part of the budget approved by the Maryland General Assembly in a May special session, the state’s death certificate fees will double from $12 to $24.

It is one of many increases in fees for vital services in the past few years. In 2011, legislators doubled the state’s birth certificate fee from $12 to $24. According to a report from the Department of Legislative Services, neither fee had been increased since 2003.

Legislative analysts estimate the increase in death-certificate fees will raise $667,000 this year.

Delegate Jolene Ivey, Prince George’s Democrat and a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said the increase is reasonable in light of the state’s clear need for money. Death certificate fees go into Maryland’s general fund, which is used to pay for most of the state’s operating expenses.

“A $12 increase these days is not unreasonable at a time when we are trying to do things like fund public education and public safety. There are many things we need money for,” she said. “I think most people can bear a $12 increase that people won’t have to pay too often.”

According to the Department of Legislative Services budget analysis, Maryland’s fees for death certificates rank among the lower half nationwide. Ms. Ivey said this weighed heavily on legislators’ decision to increase the fee.

The state sets one fee for all birth and death certificates and each county is able to add its own surcharge to that cost. In Montgomery County, for example, the county adds $8 to the cost of each death certificate, making the cost $32 with the increase.

Funeral homes are the biggest consumers of death certificates, which can be obtained from any county vital records office or directly from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, regardless of where the death occurred or the deceased person’s residence. Where funeral homes go to obtain certificates usually depends on their location.

Jeff Campbell, director of operations at Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Montgomery County, said that families order an average of six to 12 copies of their loved one’s death certificate because insurance companies, government agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles require a certified copy of the death certificate to close accounts. Funeral homes often obtain the certificates and help the family close the accounts if help is needed.

Mr. Campbell said the funeral home will do its best to keep families from having to pay an extra county charge by traveling to Baltimore twice a week to obtain certificates directly from the state. He said they will obtain copies from the county if clients need them quickly.

Cindy Edwards, nurse administrator for Disease Control and Vital Records at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said the county does not anticipate a huge decrease in business.

“We hope the convenience of staying here rather than going up to Baltimore will keep some people here,” she said. “We want to keep our funeral homes coming here, and we want to be able to provide a service.”

Keeping the county portion of fees low could be difficult. A few years ago, Maryland adopted an automated system for vital records that includes a Web-based database and numbered security paper. Ms. Edwards said this means added time for data and extra work for the department’s staff.

“As the state keeps adding more things for us to do and it keeps taking more time, we don’t have as much time to provide services because we’re spending so much time on the back end,” Ms. Edwards said. “We’re going to have to look and see in the next six months to a year to see how our processes change and then determine if we do need to raise our prices.”

Montgomery County would have to perform a detailed cost study to determine if their charges should increase, Ms. Edwards said. The study includes an examination of the costs per certificate, including staff time, maintenance of files and copy machines and mailing expenses.

In Howard County, the accompanying county death certificate fee will rise from $8 to $11 per first certificate, making a first certificate cost $33. Lisa de Hernandez, Howard County public information officer, said this covers the administrative and paper costs. She said the fees were increased to the same price as birth certificates in order to provide uniformity.

Once the county was made aware of the increase, the department let funeral homes know.

Ms. de Hernandez said the county had not seen a drop in the number of birth certificates obtained since the price increase.

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