UPDATE 1-Aetna posts higher profit, gives bullish outlook

* Earnings of $1.55 per share beat analysts' estimates

* Outlook for 2012 now $5.10 per share

Oct 25 (Reuters) - Aetna Inc., the third-largest U.S. health insurer, reported a higher quarterly profit that beat expectations, saying it had reached its 2012 goal of 18.2 million members ahead of schedule and kept costs down.

The company also raised its 2012 outlook on Thursday to the top end of its previous forecast of $5.00 to $5.10 a share.

Beyond 2012, Aetna Chief Financial Officer Joseph Zubretsky said in a statement that he expected further growth.

``Our core businesses, supplemented by emerging businesses growth and effective capital deployment, position Aetna for growth,'' he said.

The company said third-quarter earnings had risen to $499.2 million, or $1.47 per share, from $490.4 million, or $1.30 per share, a year earlier.

On an operating basis, the company earned $1.55 per share, which was ahead of the analysts' average estimate of $1.34, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S

Revenue increased to $8.9 billion from $8.4 billion, in line with expectations. The company attributed the rise to higher insurance premiums in its commercial, Medicare and Medicaid businesses.

Aetna plans to increase its share of the fast-growing, U.S. government-backed Medicare and Medicaid programs. In August, it announced plans to buy Coventry Health Care Inc for $5.6 billion.