The tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health benefits today came up during the first presidential debate.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Republican nominee, said during the debate, held in Oxford, Miss., that he would like to give each American a $5,000 refundable tax credit that could be used to buy health insurance.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Democratic nominee, said McCain would tax group health benefits.

Under the McCain proposal, if a worker lost employer-sponsored coverage, “you’d have to go out to try to buy it on the open market,” Obama said.

Even if economic turmoil limits what the next presidential administration can do, “we have to fix our health care system,” Obama said. “People are getting crushed.”

Obama also said he would like to cut what he described as being the $15 billion in federal subsidies going to Medicare.

“Lobbyists were able to shape how Medicare works,” Obama said.

McCain said he wants to make sure families can make health care decisions with their doctors.

“I want to make sure we’re not handing health care over to the federal government,” McCain said.