OKLAHOMA CITY -- Managed care investors, wounded by UnitedHealth's ( UNH) dismal third-quarter update, are now looking to Aetna ( AET) for relief. Aetna is expected to post strong results when it releases its own third-quarter report on Thursday. Another solid performance out of the Hartford, Conn., insurer would help to validate the stock's nearly 50% gain over the last year. By now, however, United Health -- whose shares have been stuck in place for more than a year -- has already kicked off the earnings season with another dose of pain. This time around, UnitedHealth sickened investors with a weak growth forecast and -- once again -- left rivals WellPoint ( WLP) and Aetna scrambling to calm the market's nerves. But WellPoint has already caused some queasiness of its own. Notably, like UnitedHealth, WellPoint has suffered a massive rate of executive churn. Thus, after years of recovery, Aetna now looks to some like the healthiest pick in the group. Indeed, earlier this month, Wachovia analyst Matt Perry specifically passed over both UnitedHealth and WellPoint when selecting Aetna as his favorite stock pick. Quite simply, Perry said, Aetna leads the industry in several key metrics -- including enrollment gains and financial growth -- and should therefore trade at a premium to its peers.