HARTFORD, Connecticut (

TheStreet

) --

Aetna

(AET)

posted third-quarter operating earnings of $528.4 million, or $1.40 a share, topping analysts' estimates, on lower-than-projected utilization and disciplined pricing.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected the health insurer to earn $1.15 a share.

Operating earnings a year earlier were $419.6 million, or $1 a share.

Net income in the third quarter fell to $490.4 million from $497.6 million a year earlier, but net income on a per-share basis rose to $1.30 from $1.19 on fewer outstanding shares.

Revenue, excluding net realized capital gains, fell 1% to $8.4 billion.

Aetna said Thursday it expects operating earnings for 2011 of $5 a share. Analysts estimate $4.81 a share.

The company said its initial projection for 2012 calls for operating earnings of at least $4.80 a share.

-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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Joseph Woelfel

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