Administrative databases are increasingly used for studying outcomes of medical care. Valid inferences from such data require the ability to account for disease severity and comorbid conditions. We adapted a clinical comorbidity index, designed for use with medical records, for research relying on International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9-CM) diagnosis and procedure codes. The association of this adapted index with health outcomes and resource use was then examined with a sample of Medicare beneficiaries who underwent lumbar spine surgery in 1985 (n = 27,111). The index was associated in the expected direction with postoperative complications, mortality, blood transfusion, discharge to nursing home, length of hospital stay, and hospital charges. These associations were observed whether the index incorporated data from multiple hospitalizations over a year's time, or just from the index surgical admission. They also persisted after controlling for patient age. We conclude that the adapted comorbidity index will be useful in studies of disease outcome and resource use employing administrative databases.