WellPoint Health Networks

(WLP)

said Tuesday that it beat Wall Street's fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 2 cents as membership in the company's medical plans rose by 600,000 from last year.

The company earned $89.5 million, or $1.37 a diluted share, up from $78.8 million, or $1.20 a share, in the year-ago period, excluding a gain from the extinuguishment of debt. Fifteen analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

were calling for the company, which is based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to earn $1.35 in the quarter.

Revenue for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 rose to $2.44 billion from $1.97 billion in the same period last year.

Shares of WellPoint gained 17 cents, or 0.2%, to $100.32 in regular-session

New York Stock Exchange

trading.

Membership in WellPoint's medical plans grew to about 7.9 million at the end of 2000, up from 7.3 million at the end of 1999.