President Barack Obama on Dec. 13 signed into law the 21st Century Cures Act, which will let small businesses use health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) to fund employees who purchase individual health plans on the open market.

The bipartisan bill, which Congress passed Dec. 7, focuses primarily on speeding up drug approvals and making innovative treatments more accessible. But it also includes provisions that affect employer-provided health benefits, specifically using HRAs to pay for nongroup plan premiums and ensuring that a health plan's mental health care benefits are equivalent to its physical health care benefits.

"Many employers were upset when the Obama administration shut down the ability for employers to just provide money on a pretax basis for employees to purchase their own health insurance on the open market—a trend that many saw as the wave of the future," said Brian Pinheiro, chair of the employee benefits group at law firm Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia.