Aetna Inc. says it wants to buy out its partner in a pharmacy business that serves Aetna insureds who suffer from serious, expensive-to-treat conditions.[@@]

Aetna, Hartford, now owns 40% of the venture, Aetna Specialty Pharmacy, and it says it will be buying the rest of the business from its venture partner, Priority Healthcare Corp., Lake Mary, Fla.

Aetna is not discussing the price of the deal, but it says the purchase price it has negotiated will have no material effect on its earnings.

The deal is subject to approval by federal antitrust regulators.

Aetna hopes to complete the deal by March 31, 2006.

Aetna Specialty Pharmacy has a 63,000-square-foot facility that provides medications for conditions such as HIV and cystic fibrosis for 25,000 Aetna members each month. The 280 facility employees will become Aetna employees, Aetna says.

Express Scripts Inc., St. Louis, a giant pharmacy benefits manager, recently acquired Priority. Aetna’s venture agreement with Priority gave Aetna the option of getting full control of the specialty pharmacy business if Priority was acquired, Aetna says.

Aetna says it also is making the deal because it wants to offer integrated health coverage for customers.

Aetna is also in the process of setting up its own, in-house behavioral health operation.