Source: Centene

To help investors identify companies early enough in their growth to offer the best chance for significant long term gains, I dug through our universe of small cap stocks to find some companies that are filling big, unmet needs that are already profitable and are expected to see earnings grow significantly this year. Of the companies that I looked at, these three healthcare stocks were among the most intriguing, so let's take a closer look.

1. ExamWorks Group, (NYSE:EXAM)
As the planet's population grows older, emerging nations get wealthier, and treatment regimens become more personalized, spending on healthcare will continue to climb. Unfortunately, that spending growth will also mean that the number of cases of medical fraud climbs, too.

To curb that risk, healthcare payers are increasingly turning to ExamWorks Group for independent medical examinations, peer reviews, bill reviews, Medicare compliance, and other similar services.

Growing demand and a string of bolt-on acquisitions has lifted ExamWorks trailing 12-month sales from less than $150 million in 2011 to more than $732 million exiting the third quarter. Importantly, ExamWorks has finally reached the tipping point in scale that allows the company to deliver investors bottom line profits, too. The company's trailing 12-month EPS turned positive for the first time last year and analysts expect that ExamWorks will report EPS of $0.50 this year; up 194% from analysts' $0.17 estimates for 2014.

EXAM EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

EXAM EPS Diluted (TTM) data by YCharts

2. Abiomed, (NASDAQ:ABMD)
A lot of the increase in global healthcare spending will be focused on treating heart disease. That's because there are more than 720,000 heart attacks every year.

Since heart disease occurs later in life and baby boomers are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, the number of heart disease cases is likely to boost demand for Abiomed's line of Impella catheters, sensors, and pumps, which boost circulation before, during, and after heart surgery. That may already be happening given that Abiomed's third quarter sales increased 17% year-over-year to $51.9 million. In the third quarter, Abiomed also reported EPS of $0.09, which brought its trailing 12 month EPS to $0.245 and prompted analysts to increase their full year fiscal 2015 EPS estimate from $0.12 to $0.16 over the past 90 days. 

Earnings should continue to head higher in fiscal 2016 given that Abiomed reports that it's on track to win the FDA OK for its pumps to be used in high risk percutaneous coronary intervention procedures; an approval that would expand Abiomed's addressable market. As a result, analysts think that Abiomed will leverage volume growth for margin upside and deliver EPS of $0.43 in fiscal 2016. If so, it would mark a 169% jump from the $0.16 in EPS that the company is expected to report during fiscal year 2015.

ABMD EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

ABMD EPS Diluted (TTM) data by YCharts

3. Molina Healthcare (NYSE:MOH)
Healthcare reform is driving significant health insurance enrollment growth, both in the federal and state run exchanges and in Medicaid. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 6.5 million people have signed up for health insurance offered through the federally operated health insurance exchange, putting the agency on track to hit its 9 million target for this open enrollment period, which ends February 15th. Additionally, 9.7 million Americans are also newly covered under Medicaid following the launch of Medicaid expansion in 2013. That influx is creating significant growth opportunities for small and midsized health insurers such as Molina Healthcare.

Molina's health insurance membership has grown from 1.94 million people a year ago to 2.4 million people exiting the third quarter and its members include 15,900 people that are covered by its newly launched exchange marketplace plans and another 314,500 people that are newly covered by Medicaid expansion in key states such as California and Washington. Thanks to robust membership growth, Molina's premium revenue jumped from $4.58 billion in 2013 to $6.42 billion through the first nine months of 2014. Since more people are signing up for exchange plans during the current open enrollment period than a year ago, and more states have adopted Medicaid expansion, increasing membership projections have analysts expecting that the company's EPS will advance by 106% year over year to $2.64 in 2015.

MOH EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

MOH EPS Diluted (TTM) data by YCharts

Looking ahead
Fast growing companies are typically not value plays and ExamWorks and Abiomed are no exception. Both of those companies trade at nose-bleed P/E valuations that are likely to give value investors a cause to pause. And while Molina Healthcare is more attractively valued, it's not free of risk either. For example, the cost of next-generation, increasingly expensive medicine could create profit headwinds that will need to be overcome. Regardless, all three of these companies operate in markets offering substantial growth opportunity and each is already experiencing rapid top and bottom line expansion that may suggest investors are rewarded in 2015.