Canadian traveller initially denied life-saving transport due to emergency room visit

In this photo from a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Witmers, Alex and Jennifer Witmer are seen at their wedding. (GoFundMe)
In this photo from a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Witmers, Alex and Jennifer Witmer are seen at their wedding. (GoFundMe)

A Kitchener, Ont. man is awaiting life-saving transportation out of Thailand after his claim was originally denied due to an emergency room visit for the flu prior to his travel.

Alex Witmer was initially denied coverage for an air ambulance home from Thailand, where he was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his brain while travelling abroad. His travel insurance company checked his medical records and flagged a visit to a Moncton emergency room where he had gone for flu symptoms a month earlier. Since he reported having a headache, the insurance company then cancelled the claim since they considered it to be a pre-existing condition.

After the story made national headlines, Witmer’s insurers went back on their original decision and agreed to cover his $265,000 air ambulance trip home. His condition, however, is worsening.

Witmer’s wife Jennifer told CTV News that she’s worried about how much the delay in getting transported out of Thailand will affect her husband’s health.

"It's very frustrating and upsetting because we could have been out of here so much sooner and it would have been such a lower risk," she told the news outlet. "My sister contacted the air ambulance company directly and the president of the company actually reached out to Allianz (the travel insurance company) and grounded the air ambulance in India to prepare them to come to Thailand."

Witmer now requires a drainage tube to help ease pressure on his brain, which he must keep in for 24 hours, before he’s taken back to Canada. An air ambulance is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday morning and will leave when the couple is ready.

Protecting yourself against claim denials

Anne Marie Thomas with says the story is a good reminder for those who are buying travel insurance ahead of the trip to be as transparent as possible.

“It’s very important when you’re answering the questions on a travel, life or health insurance (form) to answer every question,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “Have you been to the doctor in the last 30 days? I would put that in. Give them all medical information.”

Often times insurance companies, particularly those that issue travel insurance, will take all the information from the client, issue a policy and then do some deeper research. That way, they will know all the details from recent hospital or doctors visits.

“Even if you think it’s so minor, like going to the doctor for a physical, disclose it because then there’s no reason for an insurance company to decline anything, because you’ve been forthcoming,” says Thomas.

Thomas says Witmer probably didn’t think informing his insurers about his recent trip to the hospital for the flu would have been relevant.

“If you don’t know, why would you,” she says. “If we went to the doctor for a flu shot two weeks ago, I don’t think most people would know to include that when applying for travel insurance.”

Even changing a dosage of medication a few weeks before travelling is worth mentioning, since it could deem the client not medically stable.

“Always be forthcoming with any change in medication, doctors visits and hospital visits,” Thomas stresses.