Image By Darkostojanovic Via Pixabay

Image by DarkoStojanovic via Pixabay.

Healthcare has proven itself to be a great sector to hunt for winning stock ideas during the last few years. The Health Care Select Sector SPDR (NYSEMKT:XLV), an ETF that offers broad exposure to the healthcare industry, has crushed the returns offered from S&P 500 during the past five years. Plus, with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every single day for the next 19 years, the demand for healthcare services looks primed for continued growth.

XLV Chart

We at the Motley Fool are big believers that individual investors can do even better than the markets if they're willing to put in the time in to find the best stocks in any given industry. To help you jump-start your search for winning names in the healthcare sector, below is a list of three healthcare companies, organized by risk, that I think are great choices for the year ahead.

A low-risk choice
It's hard to think of a low-risk healthcare stock and not have Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) immediately leap to mind. This company has so much to offer investors that it makes for an ideal long-term holding.

With 265 different operating companies under its empire selling thousands of products in dozens of countries, Johnson & Johnson is truly a healthcare conglomerate. The company currently holds the No. 1 or No. 2 market share position in 17 different categories in which it competes, which represents roughly 70% of its total sales.

That dominance provides its business with tremendous stability, which, in turn, allows its management team to reward shareholders with a generous dividend payment, which has increased for 53 years straight. With 10 new pharmaceutical products waiting in its pipeline that each hold more than a billion dollars in revenue potential, the odds are very good that it will be able to keep its dividend streak going for years to come.

Johnson & Johnson shares can currently be purchased for roughly 16 times its 2016 earnings estimates, which I think is a perfectly fair price to pay when considering just how high quality its business is. Add in its 3% dividend yield and I think that Johnson & Johnson is an ideal way for low-risk investors to beef up their healthcare exposure as we start 2016.

A medium-risk choice
Investors who are willing to take on a little bit more risk in exchange for the potential to earn higher returns should consider giving Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:REGN) a look. The company is already hugely profitable and growing fast, thanks to its best-selling treatment for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema, Eylea. Eylea won several label expansions in 2015 that should allow it to continue to gobble up market share.

Praluent

Image Source: Regeneron.

Beyond Eylea, Regeneron's new cholesterol-busting drug Praluent looks primed for fast growth, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the drug reach blockbuster status in its first year on the market. Add in two other drugs in late-stage clinical trials that look like they could be winners -- one of which was recently submitted for regulatory approval -- and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals looks poised to have an amazing 2016.

If the company is profitable and poised for huge growth, why is this a medium-risk pick? The answer lies in its current market valuation. With a trailing price-to-earnings ratio of 92, investors have already priced in a monster year on the growth front. That level of excitement is warranted, but if Regeneron stumbles with its Praluent rollout, or if the FDA rejects its recent submission, then its shares could take a tumble.

Still, Regeneron has so much going for it that I think this highflying growth stock is a risk worth taking.

A high-risk choice
Investors who are looking to swing for the fences in 2016 might want to consider putting bluebird bio (NASDAQ:BLUE) on their radar. Bluebird bio shares went on a monster run in 2015, as early clinical data hinted that its LentiGlobin BB305 therapy might be able to cure not one, but two blood disorders -- beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease.

However, shares came crashing back to earth in the later half of the year after data presented at the American Society of Hematology wasn't perfect. More recently, the company's shares tumbled on news that it wouldn't be providing investors with another look at the LentiGlobin data until the next American Society of Hematology meeting in November.

Inttt

Image Source: Regeneron.

Management offered up a perfectly valid reason for delaying the data release schedule, and with more than $900 million in cash on its books -- which is more than half of its current market valuation -- the company has plenty of cash to funds its operations well into 2018. That gives it plenty of time to continue to develop LentiGlobin.

If the company has good news to report in November, the stock could once again take off. With the pessimism for bluebird bio shares sky-high right now, it might be a good time to consider opening a small position in the stock.

Bluebird bio's stock is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, but it could be a good choice right now for more daring investors.

Brian Feroldi has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bluebird Bio and Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.