John McCain underscored his opposition to mandatory health insurance Wednesday at a health care forum in Washington, D.C., saying the coverage should be a matter of choice.

"I think that one of our goals should be that every American own their own home, but I'm not going to mandate that every American own their own home," the Republican presidential candidate told the crowd at a forum sponsored by hospital trade group the Kaiser Family Foundation. " I think that every American should have ... an affordable college education. But I'm not going to mandate that every American go to college. I feel the same way about health care."

Besides reiterating his stance on universal health care, McCain also clarified an element of his own health care plan, saying that employers who provide their workers coverage would still get tax breaks.

The Arizona senator said that has been the case since he first announced his proposal three weeks ago, and he apologized for any confusion. At the time, aides indicated that to help pay for the sweeping reforms, McCain would end a provision in the tax code that allows employers to deduct the cost of health care from their taxable earnings.

But on Wednesday, McCain said, "There's no reason for us to remove the employer tax incentive. I think that should stay exactly as it is."

Under the plan, employees who have employer-provided health insurance would be taxed on the portion of their coverage that their employer pays.

But the policy would offset those costs by providing tax credits of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families, and aides said the new credit would more than offset the extra taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans.

FOX News' Malini Bawa and The Associated Press contributed to this report.