Kitchener man denied travel insurance after brain tumour diagnosis in Thailand

By: Lisa Coxon on December 10, 2019

Story update: According to CTV News Toronto, Allianz has since agreed to cover the cost of returning Alex home in an air ambulance, as well as cover the cost of his medical treatments and expenses abroad. However, his condition has worsened.

A Kitchener resident diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour is stranded in Thailand awaiting the final word from his travel insurance company after his coverage was initially denied because he reported flu-like symptoms, including a mild headache, when he went to the emergency room in Moncton a month ago.

Alex Witmer, 30, was about a month in to a six-week trip in Thailand with his wife, Jennifer Witmer, when he started to experience a severe migraine. 

“He got a migraine that didn’t go away,” Jennifer Witmer told CTV News Toronto on Monday. “It just got bad.”

The husband and wife went to the hospital and after Alex underwent some scans, doctors diagnosed him with a cancerous brain tumour. The pain he was experiencing was a result of the pressure building inside his brain. He was told he required brain surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation as soon as possible.

The couple then opened a claim with their travel insurance company, Allianz. 

". . . there was no issue we just got the go ahead yesterday,” Jennifer told CTV News Toronto. “They were sending an air ambulance.”

But a few hours later, Allianz called Jennifer back and said the couple’s claim had been cancelled because a month ago, Alex went to the emergency room in Moncton, where the couple has been living for the last five years, for flu-like symptoms — one of which was a mild headache.

“. . . he said that they cancelled our claim based off having a pre-existing condition,” Jennifer said.

“They offered to still send an air ambulance service and quoted me $265,000 but that’s obviously not an option.”

Stories like this often make headlines because they highlight the precarious nature of fine-print-ridden travel insurance policies. You might think you’ve purchased a policy that will protect you, but only when these kinds of situations arise do consumers find out the hard way that they’re not actually covered.

The couple is now waiting for the final word from Allianz, but Jennifer said they’ve been telling her that it’s not looking good. They’re also facing a closing window of time when Alex is safe to fly home. The medication that’s reducing the pressure inside Alex’s brain is only effective for a few days, and the doctors said it would only be safe for him to fly home during that time.

“The longer we wait, the higher the risk becomes.”