On Thursday, we reported that the U.S. health system is unprepared to respond to a major nuclear emergency as a result of inadequate capacity to treat a large number of radiation injuries, aging stockpiles of a key medication, and limited emergency preparedness drills for hospitals. Hours after our story ran, the House of Representatives passed a budget measure that would cut the federal Hospital Preparedness Program by $185 million, a 44 percent reduction from last year’s budget.

“This is the only federal funding that is intended to provide assistance for hospital preparedness and response,” said Roslyne Schulman, the director for policy development at the American Hospital Association. “A cut of this magnitude is totally out of the blue. It would decimate the program.”

The proposal is unlikely to be enacted. The cuts are contained in the House’s one-week budget proposal that would cut $12 billion in spending and avert an immediate shutdown of government. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has dismissed it as a “non-starter” and a “fantasy.”

Schulman said that the proposal still puts the Hospital Preparedness Program at risk by making it a potential target in negotiations on future budget cuts. Schulman said that if the cuts were passed, hospitals would have to cut back their surge capacity, disaster drills, and funds for stockpiling medications – precisely the programs we noted in our story are currently inadequate to respond to a significant nuclear emergency.

We have contacted the House Appropriations Committee, which originated yesterday’s budget measure, but have not yet received a response.