On Dec. 6, President George W. Bush tossed the coin at the beginning of the 109th Army-Navy football game, an expected and appropriate activity for a “lame duck” president approaching his expiration date.

And on Dec. 19, he kicked off another game, this one significantly more political in nature.

Exerting executive power, and with an infuriating arrogance, he published to the Federal Register a widely opposed healthcare bill dubbed the “Conscience Rule” just a month before his White House stint is up.

The bill will take effect the day before President-elect Barack Obama takes over the presidency on Jan. 20. It essentially grants doctors and other health care workers greater job protection with the ability to freely opt out of participating in certain medical procedures and practices that they consider contrary to “their sincere religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The bill will require that institutions receiving government funding express, in writing, their understanding that no employee who “opts out” may be discriminated against, and any institution found in violation of the bill will have its funding at stake.

The debate over further protection of health workers’ rights has been ongoing. Attorney generals from 13 states were sincerely opposed to a similar rule, reported the Associated Press in September. The attorney generals argued, in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, that among other problems, the bill failed to clearly define abortion, potentially leaving it to be included under birth control.

Although the version of the bill ultimately passed by Bush does not apply to instances involving birth control, it does apply to many other procedures, including abortion, emergency contraception, in-vitro fertilization, stem cell research and assisted suicide, said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, whose term will expire on the same day as Bush’s.

The very core of what is wrong with this rule, however, is not what it applies to. Instead, it is to whom it applies: the bill was specifically written to include a massive slice of the health care workforce.

This right-to-refuse is not only extended to doctors, but to receptionists in their offices, volunteers, trainees — even the person who cleans or sanitizes the rooms and utensils needed for certain procedures. This ultimately adds up to approximately 600,000 affected healthcare workers at government-funded hospitals, universities, clinics, medical and nursing schools, diagnostic labs, nursing homes, insurers, pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

These hundreds of thousands of employees fill vital roles in the world of healthcare. They are entitled to hold their own moral and religious convictions, and to hold them without fear of discrimination. But healthcare is about patients, and giving these patients the care they need. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 5 percent of all employees working in healthcare are physicians or surgeons. The remaining 95 percent of healthcare workers are not adequately trained to know what a patient needs, when he or she needs it, or why, especially when it comes to matters as multifaceted as those specifically targeted in this bill. Therefore, their own religious or moral beliefs should not be allowed to impede proper care of patients, regardless of the circumstances.

Obama expressed discontent with the bill in August and his administration is expected to overturn this most recent bill.

The path toward doing so will not be easy, but prompt attention to the matter would represent a much-needed first step toward fixing the current crisis in health care.

And in the meantime, Bush should stick to flipping coins at football games.