Health benefits company

Anthem

(ATH) - Get Report

said third-quarter earnings rose 54%, due in part to strong membership growth and pricing discipline.

The company also raised its 2002 and 2003 earnings guidance.

The company earned $171.2 million, or $1.29 a share, compared with $111.5 million, or $1.07 a share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding certain charges, the company earned $139 million, or $1.05 a share, compared with $81.8 million, or 79 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Analysts were expecting the company to earn 99 cents a share.

Anthem said results from each of its regions exceeded expectations, and same-store membership grew 7%.

Revenue was $3.5 billion, compared with $2.5 billion last year.

Looking to the fourth quarter, the company expects to earn $1.05 per share to $1.10 a share, compared with 99 cents last year. Analysts expect $1.04 a share, on average.

The Indianapolis-based company said it expects to achieve 15% annual earnings growth because of the successful quarter. The company now expects to earn $4.05 per share to $4.10 a share for 2002, up from its original $3.85 to $3.95. Analysts expect the company to earn $3.94 a share for fiscal year 2002.

For 2003, the company upped its expected EPS to $4.65 to $4.75 from its initial guidance of $4.50 to $4.60; analysts were expecting $4.58 a share.

Shares of Anthem closed at $63.45 Friday on the

New York Stock Exchange

.