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2 Healthcare Stocks You Can Buy and Hold for the Next Decade

Investors have been stuck on a roller coaster of volatility in the overall market for nearly two months, leading some to eye dividend stocks to cushion the fall. But Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) give investors more than that one reason to be comfortable with an investment in these dividend paying healthcare companies for the next decade.

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Abbott Labs: a newly crowned king with double-digit revenue growth

Abbott is a major pharmaceutical company best known for its medical devices, diagnostics, and pediatric and adult nutritional products -- think Pedialyte or Similac. This year, it's being crowned as a dividend king -- meaning the company has increased its annual dividend for 50 consecutive years.

Third-quarter revenue grew 23% year over year. Excluding COVID-testing-related sales, Abbott still boasts a nearly 12% increase over pre-pandemic 2019 sales for the quarter. To put this number more in perspective of its strength, Abbott's top competitors -- Abbvie, Agilent Technologies, and Johnson & Johnson -- all grew revenue around 11% year over year in their latest quarters, including sales from Covid related items.

Although Abbott's dividend yield around 1.5% comes in just slightly above the S&P 500, it does fall short of the average healthcare stock dividend of 2.28%. So what will help Abbott be a strong play for the next 10 years? First, the company is bolstering its organic pipeline. During Q3 it announced FDA approval for its Amplatzer Amulet -- a device used in the heart for heading off blood clots before they can form.

The company also filed for a premarket approval to obtain FDA consideration for its CardioMEMS system, developed for remote monitoring of the heart. FDA approvals of these devices could make a significant positive impact for patients, and for company revenue -- 5 million people in the U.S. currently live with heart failure, with an additional 550,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Second, the company is putting its $9.7 billion in cash toward acquisitions that further bolster its pipeline. The acquisition of Walk Vascular (for an undisclosed amount) in September expands its endovascular product solutions with Walk's system designed to break up and remove blood clots.

Going forward, the medical device market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.7% through 2027, accompanied by a 6.1% CAGR in the nutritional healthcare market through 2028, The increased presence of disease and illness, an aging population, and technological advancements offering alternative treatments and procedures will all help to fuel this market growth. Combined with Abbott's pipeline expansion and consistent dividends, that expanding opportunity should provide reason enough to make this newly minted dividend king an investment you can buy and hold for the next decade.

UnitedHealth Optum-izing services for a larger member base

Like Abbott, UnitedHealth is expected to benefit in the long term through a projected compound annual growth rate of 9.7% for the healthcare insurance market through 2028. That should allow for continued revenue growth and provide cash that the company can use to expand its portfolio of products and services to meet the needs of a growing customer base and an aging population going into the next decade.

UnitedHealth partners with over 1.3 million physicians and 6,500 hospitals and care facilities to provide healthcare insurance and medical products to over 100 million customers under two primary business units, Unitedhealthcare and Optum. Like Abbott, UnitedHealth has growing revenue, 200% share-price gains over the past five years, and a reasonable dividend of 1.24%. That lags yields from its peers and the S&P 500, but still equals a hefty $5.80 per share annually for investors, helping ease any anxiety that a volatile market might bring.

UnitedHealth's fourth-quarter earnings beat consensus estimates by 4.2%as revenue increased by 12.6% year over year, driven by double-digit growth across both business units. Consolidated operating margin also grew to 7.5% from 5.4% year over year, driven by top-line growth, compared to a 5.1% average margin for the healthcare services industry as of Sept. 2021.

Entering 2022, the company expects 500,000 new patients this year through Optum, an area in which per-consumer revenue grew by 30% in 2021. UnitedHealth expects another 800,000 new members through Unitedhealthcare. The success of Optum is helping lead the company into the future, as the company places more emphasis on offering patients expanded care through speciality clinics.

Meanwhile, the insurance side of the business is benefiting from programs that charge patients based on the success of their treatment, rather than the services rendered. By the end of 2022 the company expects to remain on course for double-digit revenue growth once again, topping $317 billion in total revenue for the year.

The COVID-19 pandemic's challenges have forced healthcare companies to adapt to a changing environment. So far, UnitedHealth has taken the appropriate measures to keep growing, giving investors with a long- term investment strategy reasons to stay on board. As the omicron surge eventually wanes, it will be exciting to see what UnitedHealth does next.

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Jeff Little has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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