Sen. John Kerry on Monday proposed requiring all Americans to have health insurance by 2012, "with the federal government guaranteeing they have the means to afford it."

The Massachusetts Democrat, whose name is figuring prominently in 2008 White House speculation, repeated his 2004 presidential campaign call for expanding the federal Medicaid program to cover children.

He also advocated creating a program to cover catastrophic cases so an employer providing insurance doesn't have to pass the cost to his other workers, and offering Americans the ability to buy into the same insurance program used by federal workers, such as members of Congress.

Kerry proposed to pay for the program by repealing tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration that benefit those earning over $200,000 annually. He did not immediately elaborate on how he would get his insurance mandate enacted into law.

"One of my biggest regrets is that fear talk trumped the health care talk, and that we are less safe abroad and less healthy at home because of that," said Kerry said in the prepared text of remarks he planned to deliver at midday Monday at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

The senator already had delivered two other speeches at the Revolutionary War meeting house laying the ground work for a second presidential campaign.

Kerry also promoted his health care proposal in a Boston Globe op-ed piece published Monday morning, and during an appearance on Don Imus's nationally syndicated radio program.

In the text of his prepared speech, Kerry conceded that his health care proposal is virtually the same as one he outlined during his failed campaign for the White House in 2004. However, he said that continuity was a measure of his commitment to his health care ideals.

"Every day since Election Day, the health care crisis has grown steadily worse," said his prepared speech. "The president has stuck to his guns — or, more accurately, his empty holster — and done nothing beyond trotting out the conservative hobby horse of health savings accounts."

The senator said his plan would lead to universal coverage by 2012, "but if we're not there by 2012, we will require that all Americans have health insurance, with the federal government guaranteeing they have the means to afford it."

An early morning phone call and e-mail to the Republican National Committee, which typically responds to political criticism of the president, were not immediately returned.

Whatever his criticism, Kerry faces the reality that the governor of his home state — Republican Mitt Romney, himself a potential 2008 presidential candidate — has not only talked about but enacted a sweeping health care overhaul designed to bring universal coverage to Massachusetts.

Last week, Michael Leavitt, secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human services, called Romney's program "a model" for the nation.