He went on to criticize the "one-size-fits-all solution" from Washington and emphasized his preference for plans devised by each state.
Romney's law is credited with expanding coverage but not controlling costs, which it did not set out explicitly to do. Public opinion surveys in Massachusetts consistently suggest it is well regarded, and there has been no serious effort to roll it back.
"It's almost as if we're discussing poll results from a separate country," Blendon says.
And the state law has an advantage over the federal one in winning public support: the passage of time.
"In Massachusetts, in the sixth year of the program, it would be very hard to envision that we're going to take away insurance coverage from all the people who got coverage and say let's go back to six years ago," Blendon said.
In contrast, people have been slow to see the benefits of Obama's law — or to experience any downside — because the bulk of it does not kick in until 2014.
Nixon's initiative was bold for its time — and even bolder now — because it contained measures that have become anathema to the Republican mainstream, including a requirement that all employers offer coverage to their workers. To his everlasting regret, Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, his party's broker on health care, chose not to seal a deal with Nixon along those lines, reasoning that a Democratic president down the road could achieve a single-payer government system like Canada's.
"You never know how the thing would have played out," said Altman, an architect of Nixon's initiative and author of a new book on the century-long struggle for expanded medical care, "Power, Politics, and Universal Health Care." ''There was no question that the stars were aligned in 1974 for the passage of something important."
Nixon declared: "The time is at hand this year to bring comprehensive, high-quality health care within the reach of every American. I shall propose a sweeping new program that will assure comprehensive health insurance protection to millions of Americans who cannot now obtain it or afford it."
With the Watergate scandal soon to destroy Nixon's presidency, health care was surely a topic he preferred to talk about. It's just not one that Romney or Obama wants to talk about now.
Associated Press writer Nancy Benac contributed to this report.
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